Saturday, September 24, 2011

Prius Goes Plural

I have no clue how to write and spell the plural of Prius but Toyota has announced that the Prius line will now include four different models. The standard size model we have all seen, a new smaller model, a new larger model, and a plug in version of the standard size model. As you all know I think the Prius is a great car and Toyota has optimized the engine and battery in the standard model to attain 50 miles per gallon using a pretty small nickel metal hydride battery pack to augment the gasoline engine. Toyota sees competition coming from the Volt and the Leaf hence their desire to provide the option of a plug in version of the Prius. Toyota realized just how expensive the conversion to the larger battery packs as well as the conversion from nickel metal hydride to lithium ion chemistry will be. Therefore they limited the range on electric power to only 15 miles in their plug in hybrid. They also limited the speed on electric power to 62 MPH. The plug in model will cost $8,000 more than the base model and will rob the car of some of the MPG as the car is now heavier due to the larger battery pack. The plug in will only get about 42 mpg combined city and highway driving.

Let’s take the average motorist who drives 15,000 miles per year or about 40 miles per day. With the standard Prius they will buy 300 gallons of gasoline per year for about $1,200 of cost per year. With the plug in they will buy approximately 250 gallons per year of gasoline for about $1,000 of cost per year. They will need to buy approximately 1,500 kilowatt hours of electricity for a cost of $150 per year. After all is said and done they will save a paltry $50 per year on fuel and have spent $8,000 in initial investment to do this. I doubt the car will last 160 years to get the payback on the added investment in the car. No doubt some folks will buy the plug in version of the Prius but I doubt that this will become the most popular Prius.

The larger Prius called the V will cost approximately $3,000 more than the base model but will have 58% more cargo room than the standard model. There certainly are people who need added cargo space and will pay the extra $3,000 for this option. The Prius V gets reduced MPG due to its added mass and size and it is expected to attain 42 MPG in combined city and highway driving. The added gasoline usage per year compared with the standard model is approximately 75 gallons extra per year or an added cost of $300 per year. The smaller Prius is yet to be launched and I do not have the cost and the fuel economy but I will guess it will be $2,000 less expensive to buy and will get 55 MPG. This is a small savings and kind of shows that the standard Prius is pretty much the optimum vehicle to buy. My forecast is that the standard Prius will outsell the combined sales of the three new models. I also forecast that the plug in will sell the least amount of all the models offered. In the case of Prius the singular may exceed the plural.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Making furniture from wood

I am a very happy camper. On Thursday night I received my Professional Development award from the Northern California section of the American Institute of Chemical Engineers. My lecture was an off the cuff talk and there were many questions afterwards. The topic was how chemical engineers must continue to make furniture out of wood and not be led by the promise of VCs, academic fakes, and our government policy to make wood out of furniture. In fact I remarked that Calera is making saw dust out of furniture with their carbon sequestration technology that now needs sodium hydroxide to make table salt. I am tired after a long week so my blog is short today but I did answer one question from one of the attendees at the dinner on whether there are things we can do to affect government policy to get the government to think through what we should do with the newly discovered and abundant shale gas. I responded that I had written a short article back in 2005 for Hydrocarbon Processing that was titled “what to do if you have gas?” A Google search on this title and my name shows that the national library in Iran has cataloged the article. I am certain I do not want mister I am a dinner jacket for my governor or president but it may be worthwhile reading for some in our government to read that article I wrote as I am sure the Iranians and Chinese know what to do with their gas while our department of entropy is in its highest sate of disorder. The photo captioned above is the hand-over of the award to last Thursday night. The following was the biography the Institute used to describe me.

About the speaker: With almost 40 years of experience in chemical engineering and executive management in high value added process industries such as pharmaceuticals, microelectronics, and specialty chemicals, Mr. Lindsay Leveen brings much wisdom to organizations that are in the business of extracting value out of processes that transform chemicals, energy, labor, and capital into products that society needs and consumers will buy.

His knowledge of energy systems is broad and began with his graduate work in Thermodynamics and the publication of his thesis on the direct integration of the Gibbs Duhem equation in the Oxford University Press. He continued to apply his education of chemical engineering and finance through many years of work. He was an expert witness in perhaps the largest insurance claim for property loss in a semiconductor fabrication facility. He has consulted and worked in the areas of energy deregulation, alternative energy generation, traditional energy generation, power transmission and distribution, power quality and reliability systems, and on hydrogen and sustainability

Lindsay received a B.S. in Chemical Engineering and an MBA from University of Witwatersrand, S. Africa and a M.S. in Chemical Engineering from Iowa State. His book on the hope and hype of hydrogen is translated into Japanese and is used in Japan as a university text for students of energy policy and sustainability. Lindsay has given outside expert testimony to the US Senate on advanced batteries and fuel cells. He also has given keynote addresses at numerous conferences on sustainability. Lindsay blogs each week on energy and sustainability at where he is called “Lindsay Leveen The Green Machine”. He has lectured at UC Berkeley, Stanford and many other leading universities on numerous occasions. He has worked with the think tanks in the Bay Area such as CIFE, SRI International and EPRI. Lindsay says he is fortunate to have studied chemical engineering and to have applied this wonderful profession to enterprises that exemplify what we can achieve.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Ten Years Since 911

Tomorrow is the tenth anniversary of the 911 tragedy. I think about 911 often and probably a day does not go by that I do not think about the horror of that day. Perhaps because I blog about energy and humanity’s almost total reliance on hydrocarbons for energy, I think more often of 911, the Middle East, and the War on Terror. The war on terror is actually a dumb phrase as all war is terror but CNN has used this term fifteen times in the last day, so I too refer to past decade as a war on terror. This war on terror actually has resulted in crimes against nature as well as humanity. As a thermodynamicist I will opine on the crimes against nature.

In 2001 the US produced 1.8 billion gallons of bio ethanol primarily from corn in the Midwest. In 2011 we will produce 13.5 billion gallons of bio ethanol. We now use 40% of our corn crop in bio ethanol production. Of course not all the components of corn end up as ethanol as distiller’s grain, corn gluten feed, corn gluten meal, and corn oil are by products of the bio ethanol production process. The starch in the corn is what is converted to ethanol. But 40% of the corn crop is processed through the 214 bio ethanol refineries in the USA. The Americas (North and South) produced 21 billion gallons of bio ethanol out of the 23 billion gallons produced worldwide in 2010. Brazil and the US produced 20 billion gallons in 2010. Sugar is used in Brazil and corn is used in the US. The poor of the world starve while a massive fraction of fertile land in the US and Brazil is used to promote and subsidize the folly of bio fools who propel themselves in 4,000 pound vehicles an average 15,000 miles a year. Is this not terror perpetrated on the planet? Does the starving child in Africa really care about our Brady Bunch Lifestyle or does the child feel hunger's constant pain from the lack of corn that could have been used for food?

In 2001 we had almost zero installed PV solar cells. We have expanded the installed base of 40 gigawatts of PV cells but as I have often opined with a massive subsidy on cost per ton of CO2 emissions removed. The 40 gigawatts equals 40 million kilowatts and if PV cells produce power on average for 2,500 hours per year approximately 100 billion kilowatt hours of energy can be generated from this installed base. Each kilowatt hour of electricity generated from a combined cycle natural gas facility emits 0.8 pounds of CO2. The planet is therefore being saved 80 billion pounds of CO2 a year or 40 million tons of CO2. The problem is this is equal to removing only 7 million cars from the road. As Asia loves our Brady Bunch lifestyle and wishes to mimic the US, the total number of personal vehicles on the planet increased by over 200 million since 911. We are treating cancer with an aspirin. Prince Charles has gotten this and is now speaking of a need for massive sociologic change in how we live. Gore is still lost and is trying to get more money from government to support his VC investment in Betamax technologies. On 911 as we reflect on that terrible day we should also reflect on the 3,652 terrible days for the planet in the past decade and resolve to really change our lives and what is valuable.

The article below from The Telegraph of London quotes Prince Charles

By Louise Gray, Environment Correspondent
2:34PM BST 08 Sep 2011

In his first speech as the new President of the Worldwide Wildlife Fund (WWF) UK, Prince Charles suggested 'surviving ourselves' should be a priority.
Referring to himself as “an endangered species”, he warned that the world is already in the “sixth extinction event”, with species dying out at a much faster rate than at any time since the death of most of the dinosaurs 65 million years ago.
Despite campaigning for years on global warming, he said climate change was not the only problem but merely speeding up the “rapacious” destruction of natural resources like water, land and food that humans need to survive.
The Prince said if the world carries on “business as usual” then the human race itself could be in danger.
“We are, of course, witnessing what some people call the sixth great extinction event – the continued erosion of much of the Earth’s vital biodiversity caused by a whole host of pressures, from the rising demand for land to the corrosive effects of all kinds of pollution," he said.

“This is an important point that needs to be stressed more than it is, because its ultimate impact is plainly not at all clear to most people – without the biodiversity that is so threatened, we won't be able to survive ourselves.”
Alluding to his “spiritual connection to nature”, the Prince said mankind must also protect other species from extinction.
“It may not seem to make much difference economically if the swallows, swifts and house martins no longer turn up each spring, but what would life be like if we just accepted their extinction because their habitats have been destroyed?”
The Prince follows in the footsteps of his father the Duke of Edinburgh who was President of the UK arm of WWF UK before taking on the top role of the international organisation.
The Royal joked that as a “rare species” himself, he has always felt a close connection to the work of WWF.
“Perhaps I warmed to your work from such an early age because, from the outset, you stood up for endangered species!”
The WWF was set up 50 years ago to protect endangered species like the panda but Prince Charles said that the challenge today is far greater.
He said the only way to protect wildlife and ultimately the humans who rely on these ‘ecosystem services’ is to transform the world economy so that growth is not at the expense of nature.
He referred to a “sustainability revolution” that would force people to change their lifestyles so they consume less petrol, food and other resources.
“History will not judge us by how much economic growth we achieve in the immediate years ahead, nor by how much we expand material consumption, but by the legacy for our grandchildren and their grandchildren,” he said. “We are consuming what is rightfully theirs by sacrificing long-term progress on the altar of immediate satisfaction. That is hardly responsible behaviour. There is an urgent need for all of us to concentrate our efforts on sustaining, nurturing and protecting the Earth’s natural capital and, moreover, reshaping our economic system so that Nature sits at the very heart of our thinking.”
In a speech at St James's Palace to environmentalists, staff the Prince warned that the WWF “may regret” taking him on.
He has faced criticism for his views on the environment and voiced frustration at the failure of governments to address the issue, but he insisted that by working together humanity will “perform remarkable feats of innovation to secure a stable environment”.
“As many of you will know, I have been harping on about these challenges for many years and although this leads to inevitable criticism from some quarters, I must tell you that I put up with it because the issues we face are so important. None of us must be afraid to be stand up and be counted.”

Saturday, September 3, 2011

A Terrible Week

The week was filled with terrible economic news. For the first time since the Second World War the US had net zero job growth in a month. So much for the promise of green jobs with the hundreds of billion spent by the administration and their department of entropy. In fact the administration is looking mighty dumb this week after Solyndra went bankrupt and this was the poster child of President Obama’s new green economy. The backer of Solyndra is a booster for Obama. This means he raised money for Obama’s campaign. He was handsomely rewarded by gaining over $550 million of loan guarantees for his solar voltaic startup.

Back in March 2009, I hosted a radio hour with Dave The Brain Wave on blog talk radio that dealt with Solyndra and their novel technology of placing photo voltaic within a glass cylindrical tube instead of a flat panel. Dave and I basically said 30 months ago that these guys stood little chance against the competing technology of polysilicon based solar cells. We discussed learning rates and that companies that have innovative yet unique technology cannot rely on the communal learning of a broadly adopted technology and that Solyndra like the Sony Betamax will likely fail. Of course President Obama and Secretary Chu thought otherwise and will now face the questioning of the GOP. President Obama will address Congress next week on his plan for job creation. After his green jobs fiasco I wonder what the next debacle he is planning? Perhaps we should not put colors to jobs. Perhaps we should just talk about productive useful jobs. Perhaps the President should quickly get Secretary Chu to explain the second law of thermo to him. If Chu is not available perhaps the President should call the Green Machine who will explain the newly proposed fourth law of thermo. That is that “As governments start to spend vast amounts of money on ideas that violate the second law, then the entropy of the system approaches a maximum and Shift will Happen”. Note the fourth law should not be mixed up with the third law that states “as temperature approaches absolute zero, entropy will approach a constant minimum”.

The President is a lawyer and never did study thermo. He did get a Nobel Peace Prize for doing nothing a few weeks after entering office. His Secretary of Energy did win a Nobel Physics Prize for low temperature thermodynamics and Chu should have known better than to bet these billions on junk science. I have been asked why Chu sold out? Perhaps he was told to sell hope not thermo to the masses by his boss. Perhaps he simply loved the power of being Secretary of Energy of these Ignited States or perhaps he simply wanted the Chinese to win the economic battle and was happy to support junk science with billions of dollars while the Chinese erected polysilicon factories and beat the crap out of the likes of Solyndra. I cannot opine on whether Chu is an American Patriot but I can say for a guy who won a real Nobel Prize in low temperature physics he has been a joke of a Secretary of Energy and is right up there with Sam The Sham Bodman that hyped hydrogen and other piles of junk science. Both Chu and Bodman have science or engineering based PhDs. Both Chu and Bodman are flaming fools for what they have done to us. Chu certainly knows the third law of thermo as that was the basis for Nobel Prize in Physics. Now that the fourth law has been proclaimed, Chu should also be told it is time for “Shift to Happen”. As for President Obama he should look in the mirror and see Jimmy Carter in the reflection.