Tuesday, December 22, 2009

America gets overcharged

I found an interesting article today about two guys in Berkeley California starting a business that on the surface seems to make some sense. I blogged several weeks ago about A 123 and their overpriced system to convert a Prius into a plug in that will go 16 miles on battery power before the engine kicks in. The lithium ion batteries that A 123 sells cost $11,000. These two guys in Berkeley said to hell with expensive lithium ion just use cheap lead acid batteries from electric wheel chairs and golf carts. They have a system that costs $4,500 and allows the plug in Prius to go 25 miles on battery charge. Sounds good hey?

Their system is still not economic compared with running the Prius on gasoline. One will save 180 gallons of gas a year with the lead acid system or about $540 a year in gasoline savings. The lead acid battery charge discharge efficiency is 60% so it will cost about $1.20 per day to purchase the 12 kilowatt hours of electricity from the grid to yield the 7.5 kilowatt hors of power delivered to the wheels. Net savings are therefore approximately $100 a year and guess what the lead acid batteries need replacement in 3 or four year so there is no payout for their system. It is not as big a rip off as A 123 but you still will get overcharged with the lower cost system.

Well just how dumb or smart is it to convert the Prius to a plug in with lead acid batteries other than being economically stupid.? To travel 50 miles in a Prius one needs one US gallon of gasoline. To travel 50 miles in the overweight plug in Prius using battery power one needs 15 kwh delivered to the wheels or 25 kilowatt hours from the grid given the low charge discharge efficiency. The generation of electricity even in the most modern generation station is 50% efficient so one needs 50 kilowatt hours of natural gas to generate the electricty. A gallon of gasoline has approximately 34 kilowatt hours of chemical energy and even if the refining and transportation of oil entails the loss of 10% of energy, the straight up Prius is 25% more energy efficient that the lead acid plug in conversion. Simply adding 500 pounds of added mass to the Prius in the form of lead acid batteries is dumb and not smart. This just goes to show how dumb the folks in a city with a famous university are. Here is article from CNN Money on these fuel fools from the nuclear free city of Bezerkley. Perhaps the CNN Money reporters are even dumber for reporting the dumass story. Of course readers of the Green Machine are thermodynamic Einsteins, and none of us will get over charged and super excited by this Rube Goldberg contraption.

The Prius hackers

Daniel Sherwood, left, and Paul Guzyk in a Pruis that they modified to run on battery power alone.

Paul Guzyk and Daniel Sherwood are computer geeks who co-founded
3Prong Power, a Berkeley business that transforms standard Toyota Priuses into all-electric green machines.
In 1999, Guzyk moved to California and rediscovered an old passion for cars after tinkering with a Prius. He found that in many ways the Toyota hybrid was more like a computer than an automobile. Notably, it ran on recognizable computer standards similar to those found in an office network.
"I found that modifying the Prius is like getting your computer to do what you want it to do," says Guzyk.
In 2006, he met fellow Prius tinkerer Sherwood. Together they gave a 2004 model an all-electric makeover.
First, they installed a bank of Prius batteries they had salvaged from a junkyard. That didn't work well, so they tried traditional lead-acid batteries, used in electric wheelchairs, which did the trick.
Next, they developed software that programmed the Prius to run only on its newly enlarged battery pack. Unlike the one in an unmodified Prius, the car's internal-combustion engine doesn't fire up -- and burn gas. Presto: instant electric car, albeit one with a range of only about 25 miles.
In 2007, they launched their startup in a former Cadillac dealership with less than $100,000 of their own money. Since then they've added six employees and now expect to do 500 conversions, or some 40 a month, through 2010; at $4,500 per job, that works out to about $2.2 million in annual sales.
By Jonathan Blum


  1. How efficient is oil as an energy source for autos? Step 1: A supertanker consumes an average of 30,000 barrels of heavy fuel oil to transport 2,000,000 barrels of crude oil from Jeddah, Saudia Arabia to the West Coast or the Gulf of Mexico in the US. 2,000,000 – 30,000 = 1,970,000 barrels. Step 2: According to the NAICS, almost 20% of the fuel energy consumed in the US in 2002 was by oil refineries. Though the actual amount of energy required to refine oil into gasoline is less than 20%, the fact remains that 20% of the energy that goes into the refinery will not be leaving the refinery. 1,970,000 x 80% = 1,576,000 barrels. Refineries process 50% of their crude oil into gasoline and the rest into diesel fuel, heating oil, and other petroleum products. 1,576,000 x 50% = 788,000 barrels of gasoline. Step 3: The overwhelming majority of refineries are located on the coasts or borders of the US. Therefore, to get gasoline to consumers, it must be trucked from refineries to wholesalers/retailers (gas stations). A diesel tanker truck requires 250 gallons of diesel to transport 9,000 gallons of gasoline the average distance (1,500 miles roundtrip) from a refinery to a gas station. So, another 3% is “lost”. 788,000 barrels x 97% = 764,360 barrels remain. That’s 38% of the original total. The cost of gasoline “at the pump” is irrelevant. The thermodynamics of hydrocarbon combustion compared to other energy sources is moot. It doesn’t matter where you stand on the issues of global climate change or auto exhaust air pollution. The fact is using oil as an energy source to power automobiles is incredibly inefficient. Raising CAFE standards will not raise that 38% efficiency figure. We have to come up with something better.