Saturday, September 26, 2009

Can Lithium batteries solve our oil addiction?

I have thought long and hard and read all I can on whether there will be cheaper lithium batteries in five years that make plug in cars affordable. Alas my friends the lithium plug in hybrid or all electric plug in is another thermodynamic dead end. A company A 123 went public this week and their stock soared. Their hype is that they will make affordable lithium batteries for vehicles. If I was a stock analyst and I am not I would say short this stock. They will short circuit and be a goner in a few years. This is not about Google or a wonder drug company this all about electrochemistry and thermodynamics and the truth is one needs a certain mass of electrolyte, anodes, cathodes, spacers, housing , wiring etc. to get a certain amount of stored energy. My research shows that the raw materials make up 75% to 80% of the total cost of the lithium battery. The materials will actually have inflationary pressure on their prices and if anything 80% of the battery cost will trend upward. The other 20% that is labor, capital, and non raw material inputs may experience a learning rate and economies of scale may lessen this small fraction of the total battery cost, however the raw material costs are just too large a fraction of total cost to allow a learning curve.

Technological novices will argue that alternate cheaper materials will be found and that there will be a way of reducing the quantity of raw materials. I argue that we have found the least expensive materials that actually work electrochemically and that less materials just means less power stored in the battery. Last week A123 put a Google ad on my site. I have no control over who advertises. A 123 has this battery pack as an after market add on for a standard Prius to make it plug in and capable of going 15 miles on the battery. I called the company and got the following information. The battery is a 5 kilowatt hour battery. It costs $11,000 and if I drove 12,000 miles a year with their system I would save approximately 180 gallons a year of gasoline compared with the base Prius. OK I will need to pay the electric company something like $200 per year for the electricity and I save $540 a year in gasoline at $3 per gallon. So my net savings are $340 a year. I need more than 30 years to pay for the batteries. But the story gets worse the batteries are only good for a maximum of 8 years. So every 8 years I pay $11,000 to get back $2,720. I think A123 should change their name to the Made Off Battery Company.

I have been trying for four months to see my congresswoman Lynn Woolsey, the ranking democrat on the house sub-committee on energy technology. I have been blocked and stonewalled by her staffers. Just today I wrote to the Committee Against Government Waste as their head had commented on the waste of tax payer dollars money that the Feds just gave to Fisker a plug in hybrid company funded by Alfalfa Gore and his VC group. Here is a copy of my email to CAGW:

I am outraged by the waste of tax payers’ dollars on plug in vehicles. I am a chemical engineer and a pretty well known expert in thermodynamics. I blog at The Lithium plug in will be as big a waste as Fuel Cells, ethanol and bio-diesel. I am convinced that batteries will cost more not less in ten years. These proofs of concept are just pure ways of giving money away. Lithium Ion batteries are expensive because the raw materials are expensive. Raw materials account for 80% of the cost and the other 20% may have some economies of scale but the inflation in raw material costs will simply overwhelm the decrease in costs from economies of scale. The plug in electric vehicles or hybrids are a betamax technology. Great play things for a few rich folks. We need many diesel vehicles, we need many basic hybrids with small batteries, we need an energy policy based on the laws of thermodynamics not the laws of the Washington pig farm. I think I can help you with the supporting science, engineering, thermodynamics and get our voice out there. For four months I have been asking for an audience with my congresswoman. One Lynn Woolsey who is the ranking democrat on the house sub-committee for energy technology. I have been given the run around. No doubt because she has to follow her party and follow her guru one Alfalfa Gore. please go to and then let's chat. I have no commercial interest in any technology, business, or organization involved in energy. I only care about the country and the planet. Lindsay Leveen The Green Machine

Sunday, September 20, 2009

What does the Department of Energy do?

Carl an avid reader of the Green Machine asked me to opine on what the Department of Energy really does. I call this department of the Federal Government the Department of Entropy because it has to be one of the most disorganized and chaotic departments of our government. The new secretary of energy Dr Chu has a lot to chew on to get the mess under control. If we can get the DOE to work on a real energy policy then the US may in fact lower its carbon footprint and lessen its dependence on foreign fossil fuels, the very Reason President Carter asked that this department be created in the first place.

32 years and many hundreds of billions of dollars later Dr Chu faces the same problem as the first secretary of energy James Schlesinger faced in 1977. James was also director of the CIA, and the secretary of defense under President Ford. At least Jimmy and Jimmy crafted an energy policy in the late 70s that was to draw upon oil from coal. Since then no policy at all has been crafted. In a future blog I will discuss the drawbacks of coal to liquids for a transportation fuel but at least these guys had a policy. The two secretaries of energy under GW had to be the two biggest waste of energy ever. Sam Badman sorry Bodman was our last secretary of energy before Dr Chu and old Sam is a disgrace to my Chemical Engineering profession. He should have been a magician instead of a PhD Chemical Engineer. His magic helped turn oil into a $150 a barrel commodity. Maybe Sam had an Uncle not named Sam but named Oillie.

Carl sent me the following in an email:

Subject: Funniest Joke Ever- well maybe not

Absolutely the funniest joke ever......ON US !!!
Let it sink in.
Quietly we go like sheep to slaughter.

Does anybody out there have any memory of the reason given for the establishment of the DEPARTMENT OF ENERGY ..... During the Carter Administration?
Didn't think so!

Bottom line ... We've spent several hundred billion dollars in support of an agency...the reason for which not one person who reads this can remember. Ready??????? It was very simple .. And at the time everybody thought it very appropriate.... The 'Department of Energy' was instituted on 8-04-1977 TO LESSEN OUR DEPENDENCE ON FOREIGN OIL. Hey, pretty efficient, huh????? AND NOW IT'S 2009, 32 YEARS LATER ... AND THE BUDGET FOR THIS NECESSARY DEPARTMENT IS AT $24.2 BILLION A YEAR


Friday, September 18, 2009

Where do you draw the green line?

Sometimes it's easy to be green - turning off the lights, unplugging your cell phone charger, and taking the bus are pretty effortless. But sometimes being green can seem downright silly.

Monday, September 7, 2009

Can Californians get out of their cars, trucks, and SUVs?

The Green Machine is sorry to report some not very good news from the Golden State. Even with massive unemployment, in the once Golden State, gasoline consumption in May 2009 exceeded that of May 2008. I hope this extra driving is because folks are looking for work and not simply because the price of gasoline this summer is lower than last year. The sales of diesel are however way down from last year to this. Diesel consumption is the most accurate indicator of economic activity as the Californian economy moves on trucks. Imports move on trucks, produce moves on trucks, autos move on trucks, and garbage moves on trucks.

The following is the statement from the California Board of Equalization on August 31, 2009
Old Betty Yee who is the Chairwoman of the Board had to put a spin on the data. The diesel data show a dismal economy. The gasoline sales were up in May from April as May has 31 days versus 30 in April and that equals 3.3% right there.

If I was the Chairwoman I would have said the economy stinks but the average motorist paid 37% less per gallon of gasoline and even though the equity in their homes is nearly worthless they took to the roads in droves to look for treasure troves.

Betty T. Yee, Chairwoman of the Board of Equalization (BOE), today announced that California gasoline consumption rose in May, while diesel fuel continued to decline.
“We’re in an uncertain time,” said Chairwoman Yee. “While more fuel efficient cars and trucks are increasing fuel economy – and in light of some of the recently improved economic statistics – consumers remain cautious in their spending as the economy continues toward an uncertain recovery.”
Figures released today show that gasoline consumption rose by 3.5 percent from April, and was 0.6 percent higher than a year ago. Diesel consumption declined by 4.8 percent from April, and was 7.0 percent lower than a year ago.
May 2009 gasoline sold for use on California roads totaled 1.29 billion gallons of gasoline, which was 0.6 percent above that of May 2008, when Californians consumed a total of 1.28 billion gallons of gasoline.
A month to month comparison shows that gasoline consumption rose 3.5 percent in May when Californians consumed a total of 1.29 billion gallons of gasoline, compared with 1.25 billion gallons in April. Historically, May shows an increase over April, in part because of the Memorial Day holiday, which traditionally is the start of the summer when people travel more and consume more fuel.
The average California gasoline price at the pump in May was $2.53 per gallon, a 37.1 percent decline from the average price the same month last year when it was $4.02. Gasoline sold at the lower price in May generated approximately $241 million in sales tax during that month, an estimated $139 million less than was generated last year.
May 2009 diesel fuel sold for use on California roads totaled 209 million gallons of diesel, which is a 7.0 percent decline, or 15.8 million gallons less than May 2008, when Californians consumed a total of 225 million gallons of diesel. A month-to-month comparison shows that diesel consumption declined 4.8 percent in May when Californians consumed a total of 209 million gallons of diesel, compared with 220 million gallons in April.
California diesel prices were $2.35 per gallon in May down 49.6 percent compared to last year, when the average diesel price was $4.67 per gallon.
The BOE is able to monitor gallons through tax receipts paid by fuel distributors. Figures for June 2009 are scheduled to be available at the end of September 2009. All monthly, quarterly, and annual figures can be viewed on the BOE website at:
Taxable Gasoline Gallons:
Taxable Diesel Gallons:

Thursday, September 3, 2009

11 Ways to Lower Your Summer Cooling Bills

With summer temperatures reaching their higher limits and the humidity closely following suit, keeping cool is a primary concern for many people. If it were a year or two ago, one answer to this concern might be to keep the AC flowing as high as necessary to stay cool. Yet, this year, the economics of home ownership and rental are, quite possibly, a bit different. Finding ways to keep cool and keep money in your pocket is a goal of many, or so I’ve heard.

So, how do you stay cool in this heat and keep your energy bills low? Following these suggestions could be a good way to start:

Lower Cost:
  • Keep air moving, but only if you are in the room. Human thermal comfort is influenced by four factors, one of which is air movement. Fans create a natural breeze which carries heat and moisture away from the body. People “feel” cooler even though the air temperature has not changed. The trick is to only keep the fans blowing when someone is in the room. Otherwise, the fans’ energy is wasted and may increase the heat.
  • Close window blinds, curtains, or other coverings on east and west sides of your home in the summer to prevent solar heat gain. The sun’s heat will be absorbed into your home’s floor, walls, and other internal masses if you allow exposure. Then, that heat is trapped in your home and will re-radiate into the internal air.
  • Remove or decrease the moisture and heat from the kitchen and bathroom. Don’t hang laundry in the bathroom because the increased humidity will make your home feel warmer. Use exhaust fans when necessary.
  • Switch to compact fluorescent light bulbs which release less heat.
Middle-level Cost:
  • Use weather-stripping to seal leaky doors and windows where your conditioned air is escaping.
  • Use plants or other shading devices on the outside of east and west walls and windows to intercept the sun’s rays and then release the absorbed heat to the outside air. Although curtains and other internal window coverings block the sun, they do absorb the sun’s heat and then release that heat inside the house.
  • Buy a programmable thermostat. For $50-70, you can decrease your consumption by approximately $180 per year according to ENERGY STAR.
Higher Cost:
  • Add insulation to your attic. Approximately 40% of heat loss and heat gain occur through your roof.
  • Seal your heating and cooling ductwork if you have it. Gaps and openings lower the efficiency of your cooling equipment dramatically.
  • Consider buying or making a solar oven and cook your meals outside.
  • Install a whole house fan which will remove warmer interior air after the night cools down outside. This is an especially great option for people in climates where the summer nights are at least 15 degrees cooler than the days.
Finding strategies to keep cool and keep costs down is part and parcel of living in this point in our world’s economic history. With some ingenuity and planning, we can be comfortable and keep our money for those fun summer blockbusters!