Saturday, October 31, 2009

Cash for clunkers was a bust

I have opined a few times that the cash for clunkers program that our pres and congress touted so much did nothing to save the planet. Now a large organization Edmunds has reported the very same analysis of this dumass program from DC. Here is the Edmunds report

SANTA MONICA, Calif. — October 28, 2009 —, the premier resource for online automotive information, has determined that Cash for Clunkers cost taxpayers $24,000 per vehicle sold.
Nearly 690,000 vehicles were sold during the Cash for Clunkers program, officially known as CARS, but analysts calculated that only 125,000 of the sales were incremental. The rest of the sales would have happened anyway, regardless of the existence of the program.
Ironically, the average transaction price for a new vehicle in August 2009 was only $26,915 minus an average cash rebate of $1,667.

"This analysis is valuable for two reasons," explained CEO Jeremy Anwyl. "First, it can form the basis for a complete assessment of the program's impact and costs. Second—and more important—it can help us to understand the true state of auto sales and the economy. For example, October sales are up, but without Cash for Clunkers, sales would have been even better. This suggests that the industry's recovery is gaining momentum."
"Our research indicates that without the Cash for Clunkers program, many customers would not have traded in an old vehicle when making a new purchase," Senior Analyst David Tompkins, PhD told "That may give some credence to the environmental claims, but unfortunately the economic claims have been rendered quite weak."

To conduct the analysis, the team of PhDs and statisticians examined the sales trend for luxury vehicles and others not included in Cash for Clunkers, and applied the historic relationship of those vehicles to total SAAR to make informed estimates. These estimates were independently verified through careful examination of sales patterns reflected by transaction data. Once the numbers were determined,'s analysts divided three billion dollars by 125,000 vehicles to arrive at the average $24,000 per vehicle.

Of course the pres the congress and their supporters are arguing that cash for clunkers was an enormous success and Edmunds was invaded by the GOP. But now the pres will give mega bucks to the smart grid for dumb Americans. How many dumasses will rid themselves of six TVs, three refrigerators, and their 2,000 watt hair dryer just because they have a smart meter that the utility company will install on their incoming electric line. Why don’t we just charge more for electricity, more for gasoline, more for natural gas and give the added money to folks who actually will help save the planet? Who are these people? They are children who need a real education and may not be as dumb as the generation of adults who bought SUVs, large houses miles from nowhere, and have to have six TVs and three refrigerators for their beer to watch TV. Let’s get real big brother does not need to watch an electric or gas meter spin, it needs more of your money. It should just admit that a $10 per million BTU energy tax is needed. We use 80 quadrillion BTUs of fossil fuel and doing the math the government can raise $800 billion a year right there to pay for real education for the future generation that will also need to be good at breathing carbon dioxide.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Energy from lightning and energy in a hurricane

After my last blog, I got more than a half dozen emails asking me to estimate the energy in lightning strikes. I found a link from the University of Illinois that states a 3 mile lightning strike will have between 1 billion and 10 billion joules of energy.

Three miles is about 15,000 feet so my storm analysis of the Johannesburg thunderstorm showed that at 10,000 feet the storm lost potential energy of 1.2 billion kilowatt hours. At fifteen thousand feet the lost potential energy is 1.8 billion kilowatt hours. One kilowatt hour equals 3.6 million joules so again I use my calculator to show that if the lightning during the storm struck 100 times the energy in the rain was 64,800 times greater than the 100 combined lightning strikes if the lightning had 1 billion joules each strike and 6,480 times greater if each lightning strike had 10 billion joules. Now that you are equipped with this jewel of information you know that trying to collect the energy from lightning in a storm will not do much to save the world from fossil fuels.

Sudhir an avid reader sent me this email with the following link to show how powerful a hurricane is compared with atomic bombs. Looks like this guy who wrote the link came to same conclusion as me that storms are pretty powerful. He claims that Hurricane Gustav was 11,070 times more powerful than the Hiroshima A bomb. Wait Hurricane is spelled with a H so we will see if the National Hydrogen Association claims Gustav was simply a Hydrogen Bomb.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Energy in a thunderstorm

Enough time was spent by me on the hydrogen nonsense so now to some real powerful stuff. My friend in South Africa just emailed me that they had a terrible thunder storm with tons of rain and hail last night in Johannesburg. Tree limbs and leaves all over her garden and the street in front of her home. This got me thinking about how much energy is in a thunderstorm. As a first approximation I will just calculate the lost potential energy in the rain and hail that falls out of thunderstorm clouds. As an assumption I will estimate that the rainfall in the storm is two inches, the storm lasts for one hour, the clouds are 10,000 feet above the ground, and that the storm dumps rain on 1,000 square miles. Doing really tedious arithmetic and with the help of a calculator I estimate that this storm lost 1.2 billion kilowatt hours of potential energy in that hour of storming. For comparison the entire USA uses about 600 million kilowatt hours of electricity on average each hour. Therefore this one storm over Johannesburg last night dumped sufficient rain and hail to power two United States’ worth of electricity had we been able to capture the potential energy of just the water in the storm cloud. Add the wind associated with the thunder storm and the storm could have power the entire world’s electricity requirement for that hour. The world uses four times as much electricity as the USA and I am making the assumption that the wind was as powerful as the rain.

This simple illustration shows us how powerful nature is and that we simply have not developed the methods other than hydroelectric dams to capture the power nature is inflicting on some place on earth whether in a thunderstorm, hurricane, gale, forest fire, or earthquake. Back to how powerful that storm over Johannesburg was, you need to consider the following. Each and every second for that hour the 1,000 square mile area was receiving at total of 1.2 billion kilowatts of power. What is 1.2 billion kilowatts of power? Well a Porsche Carrera has an engine that has a peak power of about 300 kilowatts. Therefore the power of the storm over the 1,000 square miles was like having 4 million Porsche Carreras racing their engines at maximum speed in that 1,000 square mile area. This is 4,000 Porches running at full throttle in one square mile. Kind of like four million Porches spaced every 80 feet revving at 7,000 rpm on a grid covering a 1.000 square miles. In money terms if the National Hydrogen Association got their way and they could build 1.2 billion kilowatts of fuel cell power, this would require a budget of almost a quadrillion dollars or twenty times the yearly global economy. I think I will stand in awe the next time a thunderstorm passes. I will also make sure I take refuge as I do not want to personally experience the power of a lightening strike.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

The Hat Trick With Patrick

More from Patrick at the National Hydrogen Association

Alright Lindsay. This isn't very friendly, but I'll respond, this once.About your balloon. It’s not all about payload, it’s about staying in the air for long periods of time, flying specific routes silently and flying undetected so that it won’t get shot down. Something at which your balloon would fail miserably.About the Clarity. If you’d rather use gasoline in a Prius, go right ahead. But the Honda FCX Clarity produces 40% fewer emissions well-to-wheels (even when the hydrogen is made from natural gas), gets 60 miles per gallon equivalent (you can check their website next time--it's more accurate: , and uses zero gasoline. I’m going with the Clarity, leased at $600/mo, including all maintenance, fuel and insurance for collision and damage. (You should know that it’s not for sale yet, and I know you didn’t get the $400,000 price tag from Honda, so let’s just call that a bogus, made up number.) For fun, I checked to see what a lease for a new gasoline-electric Prius would cost, and it’s almost $500/mo, not including the maintenance, fuel, insurance, etc. So even though the FCX Clarity is not yet a production vehicle, you can still get one for about the same price today (or cheaper) than you can a Prius.

My response

Patrick this is going to be a hat trick. Products are measured by their market penetration. The Prius has sold one million and the FCX Clarity has so far leased 10 The Clarity has 100 kw fuel cell and per my information from Ballard a PEM fuel cell still sells for about $7,000 per kw so right there we have $700,000 for the fuel cell without costing out the rest of the car. I was being kind saying $400,000. To support my arithmatic I offer you the following. Ballard is a leading member of your association and they recently reported their second quarter 2009 results with revenues from fuel cells of just over $9.65 million and that they sold 340 backup fuel cells and 12 material handling fuel cells. Their web site lists the maximum kw for material handling as 19.3 kw and the backup as 3.4 kw. Multiplying out the number of fuel cells sold in the quarter we get that they sold a maximum of 1,388 kw of fuel cells for a price of $9.65 million or $6,952 per kw. This means the puny 100 kw "engine" in the FCX costs $695,200 even if manufactured by Ballard (the largest fuel cell maker in your association). For the readers the normal gasoline engine in a Honda Civic also about 100kw costs $5,000. Honda can produce 139 gasoline engines for the price of one fool cell. Maybe Honda knows that Bernie Madoff lost people's money by selling too many items for less than they cost. Honda is doing the FCX for the press and is willing to loose ten or fifteen million dollars for the publicity on this Betamax technology. Actually Betemax is being kind. My new terminology for thermodynamic junk is Omegamax.

Getting back to your good friends Ballard their end of 2008 balance sheet show they have retained earnings of minus $1.12 billion. This means they have had cumulative losses of 1.12 billion dollars over the years they have tried to perfect their fuel cell. They are the poster child of the money wasted on this betamax technology. Let's add the losses of some of your other members (Proton Energy Systems, Millenium Fuel Cell, Plug Power, Hydrogenics, FuelCell Energy) to Ballard and these fool cell folks have lost over $3 billion collectively in their attempt to get this dead end to market. Add the government waste and well as the money invested by the major auto firms and thispile of junk was given over $6 billion to go nowhere. Honda has placed 10 fuel cell FCXs in service, Toyota has placed 1 million Prius cars in service. Give me a Break. Actually Give me a Brake and I will regenerate energy in the Prius.

On the wells to wheels story I was being kind. If the hydrogen is produced by electricity that was generated by the average source of electricity in the US grid the FCX GETS approximately 40 MPG equivalent. I checked the Honda link and it lists the distance per kilogram of H2 as 60 miles. A kg of H2 has 110,000 BTU LHV so you simply said this is a gallon of gas. But to produce the H2 one needs more energy from natural gas as the reformer is 75% efficent. Hence
the 60 miles is reduced to 45 miles. Add the energy for compressing the hydrogen to 5,000 psi and we get 40 mpg even with natural gas. Patrick you have to know thermo and not just first grade arithmatic, unless you are trying to pull a trick on us

Patrick please tell me your educational background. Are you an engineer? Have you studied thermodynamics? I wish to continue the debate only if you have the requisite engineering education. If you did not study engineering or physics this gives me an unfair advantage in this debate, kind of like the Prius over the FCX. If you are not an engineer or a physics major with years of study in thermodynamics it is kind of sad that the NHA has you in the position of VP of Technology. Sincerely The Green Machine.

PS one of my readers did some detective work and found out Patrick has an Engineering Science degree from Dartmouth. I can see us going ten rounds and this could be the re-enactment of the Thriller in Manila or the Rumble in the Jungle.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

My debate with Patrick at the National Hydrogen Association

Patrick of the NHA commented yesterday on my last blog

Hey, that's funny Lindsay. The National Hydrogen Association did take physics 101. It's why we know how to make small, efficient planes, vehicles that go over 300mph, fuel cells that can power a building, silently with no emissions and cars that travel over 400 miles on one tank and fill-up in 2-5 minutes. You don't have to slanderize and badmouth other technologies to promote your own. There's room for innovation from everyone. You can disagree all you want, but let's place nice, like gown-ups.

My reply to Patrick

Hey Patrick glad you read the piece. I have no technology that I own or promote. I just promote knowledge and help folks understand in a simplified way the laws of thermo dynamics.

OK so you guys powered a 35 pound drone with 4 pounds of hydrogen and kept it aloft for 23 hours with a 0.75 kw fuel cell. Please tell us how much the US Navy paid for this toy? A fuel cell vehicle like the Honda needs about 0.3 kwh per mile. This means we need 0.5 kwh of hydrogen as the FC is approx 60% efficient. The production of H2 from natural gas is approx 75% efficient so we need 0.67 kwh of natural gas for the vehicle to go a mile. A gallon of gasoline has 33.7 kwh so your Honda fuel cell vehicle gets 50 mpg equivalent. Same as the Prius on Gasoline. The prius is sold (not leased) for $22,000 and the Honda fuel cell vehicle costs Honda over $400,000 to produce.

Patrick you should get real and you should stop playing games nicely. I could have taken the 4 pounds of hyrogen that were burned in keeping the drone aloft and used them in a balloon to displace 28 pounds of air and therefore lifted 24 pounds of balloon plus load. Let's say the balloon weighs 4 pounds so I can lift 20 pounds of payload. The lighter than air blimp will need about 1/3 the fuel to go the same distance as the drone as I do not need thrust for lift and only need thrust for propulsion. Now that you have learned physics 001 please go to Congress for another $3 billion of my tax money so It can be wasted on repulsion instead of propulsion.

Patrick let's continue this debate as I note you are the Vice President, Technology and Communications of the National Hydrogen Association. Readers you can also go to the NHA site at Patrick after our debate we will poll the greenexplored readers to see if they have been given value for $3 billion of tax payer funding.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

The falcon that did not fly

The US cable news networks were covering a story about a kid named Falcon Heene who floated from his backyard in a helium balloon that his dad made. Planes and helicopters were sent up and no kid could be seen attached to the balloon. The balloon started to deflate and after four hours it landed hundreds of miles away and the kid could not be found. A massive hunt was started to find out where the kid landed and possibly perished. It turns out the kid was hiding in his home and the whole thing was a non event except that now the parents are being questioned if this was a publicity stunt. The parents appeared on Wife Swap last year a reality TV show and I guess they needed more coverage so to speak. The kid and his parents were interviewed on the Morning Show the next day and the kid started puking on live TV. Here is the headline from the San Francisco Examiner on October 15 the day this happened: "Helium balloon floats away with boy,6, inside: After landing, child is missing from balloon"

All this helium balloon stuff got me thinking of the Hindenburg and dirigibles. With the help of Bill an extra smart engineer who studied at Caltech, we have decided that hydrogen not helium should be used in lighter than aircraft and that diesel should be the fuel of choice for the engines. Hydrogen got a bum wrap for causing the Hindenburg fire. Aluminum oxide, static electricity and shellac ignited the fire and hydrogen then burned. I am pretty sure I would not travel in a new Hindenburg that I may design but I would use it to deliver heavy equipment to remote areas like the North Slope of Alaska. The pilot would get double pay for hazardous duty or perhaps the dirigible could be remote controlled just like the drones the Air Force uses.

The National Hydrogen Association had a piece on a remote controlled drone that was powered by hydrogen fuel using a half horsepower fuel cell that stayed aloft to almost a day. The puny little drone might be able to carry a pea sized camera but my green machine could lift a tank. The National Hydrogen Association should go back to physics 101 and realize they have a massively buoyant chemical and a puny fuel. As for Falcon he may become forgotten like a Ford Falcon the car that certainly could never fly.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Lindsay Leveen The Green Machine Top Ten Notable Quotables

“You can fuel some of the people some of the time but you can’t fuel all the people all of the time”

“Be green when all are fearful and be fearful when all are green”

“Some are green others are gangrene”

“Words speak of your noble intentions but actions should win Nobel prizes”

“Soon all the icebergs will be lettuce”

“There is no fuel like an old fuel and fossil fuels are very old”

“Expensive weak batteries killed the electric car”

“The convenient truth is Alfalfa won the PowerPoint Piece Prize’

“When I die I want a thousand Hummers to drive over my grave, I want to be buried at sea”

“Stop the world I want to get off so I can discover what kind of fuel am I?”

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Congresswoman Woolsey will take my letter to her house subcommittee

Folks: I received an email Friday from my Congresswoman's chief of staff. She has extended an offer to deliver a letter from me to all house members who sit on the house science subcommittee on energy. Here is the letter I sent to my Congresswoman today:

October 10, 2009

Congresswoman Lynn Woolsey
US House of Representatives
Via Fax 707 542 2745

Re - House Science Subcommittee on Energy

Dear Congresswoman Woolsey

Thank you for granting me this opportunity to write this letter that you will forward to all the members of the House Science Subcommittee on Energy. The representatives who sit on this science subcommittee have an awesome responsibility. Our standard of living as well as our national security and well being are based on good policy coming forth from this subcommittee. Unfortunately the record on energy policy ever since the Department of Energy was created in 1977 has been dismal. Without boring you with detail I list the failures in chronological order: Coal to Liquid and Gaseous Fuel; Energy Deregulation; MTBE and Reformulated Gasoline; Cold Fusion; Hydrogen; Fuel Cells; Corn Ethanol; Clean Coal; and Cellulosic Ethanol.

A new Administration and a new Congress will now be spending even more money on the “energy problem”. Most energy technologies are Betamax technologies from a thermodynamics perspective. A little about my background and why think I can help. I graduated in 1973 with a degree in Chemical Engineering from the University of Witwatersrand in Johannesburg S. Africa. I received my MBA from the same university in 1975 and went to work on coal gasification in South Africa. I came to the USA on a fellowship from the Monsanto Corp to study for my MS in Chemical Engineering at Iowa State University and my field of graduate work was in Thermodynamics. I graduated with a MS Chemical Engineering in 1977. I worked for 12 years in cryogenics and became well versed in hydrogen. I then spent 16 years becoming an expert in microelectronics fabrication leading teams in the design of chip, LCD and nonmaterial making facilities the world over. For the past four years I have worked at Genentech and lead teams in the chemistry, manufacturing and control of biopharmaceuticals. My education and work experience is deep in the fundamental technologies that relate to energy past and present. I am not a registered Democrat yet Andrew Tobias, the Treasurer of the Democratic National Committee, has referred to me on his blog as me being “frighteningly bright”. Enough said on qualification to opine on matters before your subcommittee.

The single point I wish to communicate is that very few technologies have a “Moore’s Law” rate of learning. I had the good fortune to lead the design of Intel’s chip fabrication facilities in the Silicon Valley for six years and lived Moore’s Law. I have written and lectured extensively that fuel cells will never approach a high rate of learning and hence cost reduction. I have written and lectured that the same slow rate of learning will hold for photovoltaic cells. I have written and lectured that corn ethanol would be a bust.

I told the National Hydrogen Association meeting in 2005 that hydrogen was a great chemical and a pathetic energy carrier. At this very meeting Secretary of Energy Sam Bodman handed out $100 million to GM for their science fictional fuel cell. I was one of the few antagonists to MTBE back in 1989. I have said that cellulosic ethanol will be a bigger bust than corn ethanol. And I now say that lithium ion batteries will not become sufficiently inexpensive for the Volt to stand a chance against a Prius. Carbon sequestration will also not happen in sufficiently large measure to do much and will remain prohibitively expensive. I say to you the House Science Subcommittee on Energy that these assertions you hear that economies of scale and mass production will drive down the cost of these technologies are not realistic.

What is realistic from a thermodynamics perspective are improvements to wind farms, improvements to geothermal, improvements to solar thermal, improvements to nuclear power generation, improvements to pumped hydro and compressed air energy storage. Certainly improvements in the rate at which we consume energy can and should be made. I also have prognosticated that is possible from a thermodynamic point of view to develop gasoline engines that operate at the same high compression ratio and in the same un-throttled mode as diesel engines. Running all engines in a mode that mimic diesel engines will yield massive improvements in fuel economy. Simply promoting the use of diesel for private vehicles will also make a big difference in fuel consumption.

You may ask why did computer chips and LCD screens enjoy a rapid learning rate and why won’t these other technologies improve in likewise manner? I would like the opportunity to address that fundamental question by detailed explanation of Thermodynamics, Learning Rates, System Fabrication, Reaction Kinetics, and Resource Limitations. This of course cannot be accomplished in a simple introductory letter. I remind you all of a sign that hanged in Albert Einstein’s office in Princeton. The sign read “Not everything that counts can be counted, and not everything that can be counted counts “. Likewise the laws of thermodynamics will prove that hope is not a strategy for a realistic energy policy and if what we do is going to count let’s allow the laws of thermodynamics to take precedence over our man made laws.


Lindsay Leveen

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Why is Russia getting greener?

News out of Russia is that it is one of the few G20 countries that are actually getting greener. Since 1990 greenhouse gas emissions are down by over a third. Before we all celebrate that Putin and his boys are green guardians, most of the reduction is a result of decreased economic activity after the fall of the soviet empire. Of late though the Russian economy has been growing and this resource rich country that spans two continents will again begin to emit increasing amounts of carbon dioxide as living standards improve, more personal vehicles are bought, and Muscovites give up on living like the Honeymooners and emulate the Brady Bunch lifestyle. Perhaps they won’t have eight kids in a household though. The population of Russia is in decline and is now some six million less than a decade ago and the trend continues with a high death rate and an extremely low birth rate.

Russian men drink ethanol at an amazingly alarming rate and this is the dominant reason for a high death rate in their country. Life expectancy for Russian men is only 59 years. For women life expectancy is 72 years. The Russian population is now 142 million and could go as low as 110 million in 2050. In 1939 before the start of world war two the population of the Russian part of the Soviet Union was also 110 million. While the folks in the USA guzzle ethanol in their vehicles to the tune of some 30 gallons a year, the men in Russia think of their bodies as a Chevrolet and guzzle an equal amount of booze in a year. If only alcohol could kill off Clunkers as fast as men we may have a greener world.

While the Russians may have inadvertently become green by closing inefficient state owned heavy industries after the collapse of communism and by loosing population, there is in fact a lesson that should be learned here. These two reasons for the lowering of the environmental footprint of mankind are indeed where the focus of all our attention should be placed. The population explosion is by far the biggest cause of the degradation of the environment. The second is that a country such as China produces half of the steel in the world using primitive steel making techniques that employ coal and are reminiscent of the steel industry in Pittsburgh in the 1930s. If the steel industry is to rationalize and clean up, countries such as Australia and Brazil should produce more than half of the worlds steel supply. Australia has vast iron ore and natural gas reserves and producing direct reduced iron in Australia would yield steel with a third less carbon emissions. Brazil is blessed with vast and excellent grade iron ore. Its neighbor Bolivia has abundant natural gas. These two could combine to form a low cost, low emission steel manufacturer.

Iran and Russia are also blessed with vast natural gas reserves. Even if Iran developed its economy to the point where each citizen consumes as much electricity as each citizen of the USA, Iran has sufficient natural gas to generate electricity for over 200 years. Iran has a population of 66 million and this country has seen its population grow massively from only 17 million in 1950. They are not the only country placing an increased burden on the planet, the USA has essentially doubled its population since 1950. We are told that increased education leads to increased living standards and decreased population growth. The USA should also lead by example and educate it citizens to understand the implications of the suburban lifestyle that Hollywood has glorified to audiences around the world. Perhaps then the Iranians will follow in the footsteps of their Russian friends to the north and slow their population growth and enjoy life albeit shortened by shouting Nasdrovia .

Friday, October 2, 2009

I am posting this cartoon courtesy of the cartoonist Zapiro and the South African Sunday Times. The cartoon says it all for this week. I was granted permission by the cartoonist to post the cartoon but there is a copyright that is held by the cartoonist so do not copy this cartoon and use it elsewhere.
In saying it all the Cartoonist has captured that the leadership of the G20 economies are excusing the others for their ecological misbehavior. It is time that collectively the larger economies do tackle their emissions and do it in a realistic way. The USA can institute a real energy policy of taxing the hell out of gasoline and providing incentives to those who carpool, vanpool, or take public transportation. My firm Genentech where I work has one out of three workers using carpools, vanpools, company operated buses, bicycles, public transportation to get to and from a suburban campus. My commute costs are negative. C'mon politicians do something besides eating beans at the campfire of your next get together. The Green Machine