Apr 15

The Alternative Fuel Vehicle “Duh” Statement

view graph crude oil prices
People who say that alternate sources of fuel are 10-15 years away crack me up. As someone who worked at BMW for two years who was planning on running an online dealership, I knew what the auto industry had in the pipeline. BMW touted its hydrogen hybrid when I worked there back in 2004 and VW presented the cleanest burning diesel vehicle ever at the L.A. Auto Show last month. You could literally run this diesel engine on peanut oil with no modifications to the engine whatsoever if you had to. The diesel engine has been this way since its inception, and biodiesel technology is becoming more efficient every year. Americans pay over $100 per gallon because 1.) we don’t realize the optional technologies already being used by other countries and 2.) even though increased gas prices act like a horrible oppressive tax on everything we consume, we fail to look for reasonable alternatives.

According to a BusinessWeek article, Honda is releasing their Honda FCX Clarity to beta testers in Los Angeles as early as 2009. The Clarity is a slick-looking hydrogen fuel-cell vehicle already being tested by major auto magazines. The cost? A lease will run drivers $600 a month.

I just can’t get excited for the prospects of this vehicle just yet. America’s favorite sport, like it or not, is Nascar. We get larger cars than we could possible could because they’re large, and faster cars than we need because they are fast. Cars are ingrained in the American culture. Would people spend more on a car with 136 horsepower than they would on a fully loaded BMW 328, an ultra low emissions vehicle? Wouldn’t that money be better spent just getting a home closer to work?

What would I do if I were a Honda executive? Pick an assortment of technology leaders, non-profits, journalists, scientists, and plain regular folks, and just give them the cars to try out. Ask for their feedback on how to make it faster, cheaper, and more practical. And then tell us all about it. Show the car from all aspects, good and bad, to the people who will hopefully buy it one day. Make it ours. A $600 lease means it will just go to the Leonardo DiCaprios or Ed Begley Jrs. of the world, and they are going to like anything that’s green. That includes cars that aren’t affordable or marketable. In the long run, that’s just stupid. Being green shouldn’t be seen as a holier-than-thou status symbol or a pie-in-the-sky ideal. Being green means we can finally remove the elephant from the room, which is Exxon’s 40 billion dollar per year profits at the expense of the American people.

Inspired by Ed Schipul’s honest post on the economy. Although the economy is bleak, acknowledging our options is the first step.

Cool Related Links:
The Audi A8 diesel drove from London to Edinburgh and back on one tank of gas.
The X Prize Foundation is giving $10 million to the fastest production-ready car getting over 100 MPG.

  • http://blogs.opennms.org Tarus

    I’ve been kind of involved with alternative fuels for a couple of years now, living vicariously through my friend Lyle Estill.

    Lyle and his team have built a biodiesel plant in North Carolina that shipped out 92,000 gallons of fuel last month, meaning they will ship over 1 million gallons this year. This is fuel made from waste chicken fat from the chicken processing plants in the area.

    Much like the term “open source”, the term “biofuels” has been co-opted to mean something different than the original intent. Lyle is capturing waste streams and turning them into energy, whereas a lot of the media focus on biofuels is on using virgin palm oil or corn in a fashion where the energy equations is actually negative.

    But it has been interesting to watch what is basically a grass-roots effort create fuel – the domain of companies like Exxon and BP.

    He has a great blog about it:


    and you can also check out his book:


  • Allan Honeyman

    Okay, hold on now. The $600.00 a month incloudes all costs other than hydrogen. This means preventative maintenance as well. So let’s look at the costs of running this vehicle.

    First of all it would supplant a Honda Accord, for example at approximately 33 mpg. From what I understand the car should yield 68 mpg on hydrogen. Let us assume that the lessee will use approximately 15,000 miles per year. At an average cost of $3.75 per gallon for gasoline the gasoline cost per mile for the
    Accord is 11.3¢ per mile or $1695.00 per year. The average cost of making hydrogen, (yuh cud make it yourself! Look it up!) is $2.40. If you live near cheap electricity, it would be even cheaper. So $2.40 divided by 68 is 3.5¢ per mile or $529 per year. This means that you would save approximately $1150.00 on fuel per year. Add in five oil changes at $30 per year for an additional $150.00 per year and you savings come to $1300 per year. This reduces the $600 per month to $490.00 per month. Still high, but not out of line considering that Honda is making this a full-smack car with all the goodies.

    Full production FCX’s would probably come in around the $300 per month mark and we’ll all happily be bubbling hydrogen out of water for ourselves and pumping it into our cars…unless lithium ion batteries make the whole hydrogen thing moot!

  • http://michellesblog.net Michelle

    Tarus, thanks so much for pointing out someone who is doing biofuels right!

    Allan, I compare the Clarity to a BMW, which also includes comprehensive maintenance including oil changes and even loaner vehicles. For $600 a month I can lease a BMW 335 fully loaded, which is just gobs more fun to drive than that Clarity would be. Even the Accord has way more giddy-up and go. The Clarity is efficient, but is it marketable at this point? Do we have to sacrifice everything people like about cars, or should we support the X Prize Foundation, which is trying to create a win/win situation here?

    I am very excited at the prospects of hydrogen fuel and have been since I saw the first one at BMW. The point of the post is that we should not restrict this experiment to the people who are willing to pay $600 a month for a boring-to-drive but efficient car. The dialog should be opened to fans and critics alike. This needs to be a viable and sustaining technology for us to progress as a nation. I don’t see how introducing it to a market that is going to like ANYTHING green is going to help very much.

    I would also like to see those figures on hydrogen. My impression is that it is not that hard to make–it is hard to contain in a safe manner.

  • http://knightfoo.wordpress.com Henry

    The problem with alternative fuels such as hydrogen and ethanol is the negative energy balance. A gallon of ethanol requires you to burn more than a gallon of fossil fuel to create it, and has less energy content than a gallon of gasoline. Vehicles that use E85 get worse gas mileage and require more frequent maintenance.

    Hydrogen suffers the same drawback. Unless you are using solar energy to extract the hydrogen from water, you are using fossil fuels at a net energy loss. If you are making hydrogen at home, you are likely using electricity that is generated from fossil fuels (70% of US electricity is from coal or natural gas). Also, much of the hydrogen currently being produced is refined directly from fossil fuels anyway.

    The solution to the fossil fuel problem going to require a total, top-down approach that touches on every aspect of energy production and consumption in order to be effective. It is definitely a step in the right direction, but sometimes it feels like people are coming up with stop-gap solutions just as a way to make a quick buck without actually solving anything.

  • http://www.renewable-energy-sources.com ZalmEnergy

    Great post. Renewable Energy Is The Future.

    ZalmEnergys last blog post..What Is Photovoltaic Effect?