This essay is my personal experience in having had a lack of representation from my Federal Government. I write for The Tiburon Ark (my local paper), GreenExplored.com, and Breitbart.com. But at heart I am a Chemical Engineer. Actually I am a well-regarded Chemical Engineer who was awarded the 2011 Professional Development Award by the Northern California Section of the American Institute of Chemical Engineers. This award for a lifetime of work in Chemical Engineering has traditionally been bestowed on a distinguished professor at Berkeley or Stanford. On this basis, I believe I have standing as a Chemical Engineer. I did graduate studies in thermodynamics and have worked for over 35 years in applying Chemical Engineering. This work included manufacturing of cryogenic materials, solid state devices, and complex biological monoclonal antibodies and proteins.
Based on the aforementioned capabilities one would think that my Congresswoman (Lynn Woolsey) the ranking Democrat for the house subcommittee, for science, space and technology might have listened to my numerous pleas. I requested a review the science supporting the “Obama-Chu energy policy” and I forewarned her that much “government money” would be wasted on what I termed as Betamax Technology. My Congresswoman has placated me and simply ignored my pleas. Worse still totally ignored my sage advice that could have been used for our collective good. She was not a high ranking Democrat in DC and she often acted as a submissive puppy dog of her party, however she was the ranking democrat on that important subcommittee and she could have acted forcefully on my apolitical concerns. My biggest disappointment was that she was my representative in my House of Representatives and she simply did not represent me. Thankfully, she will retire this year and I am hopeful that whoever assumes her chair will start to more ably represent not only myself but all other constituents in our congressional district.
I did not solely ask my representative to convey my views on the wasteful funding of so called “green technologies”. I also continued to alert readers of my blog and newspaper articles as to waste going on in Sacramento and Washington DC. I hosted an internet radio show on Blog Talk Radio that exposed the gangrene nature of these “supposed green technologies”. One firm in particular caught my attention. This firm is now defunct but was then trading on the New York Stock Exchange and this firm was Raser Technologies of Utah. Raser had been touting that their modified Hummer achieved an efficiency of 100 MPG. Raser had excellent PR folks that convinced then Governor Schwarzenegger of California and Senator Hatch of Utah to publicize the brilliance of their improved Hummer. Their modified Hummer essentially mimicked a Fisker or a Volt by using a small gasoline engine which charged a set of lithium ion batteries. The batteries were also charged with a plug in from the electric grid.
I reviewed the claims Raser was making. I quickly realized their claim of 100 MPG was when the vehicle undertook a trip that was propelled mainly by a fully charged battery and then was powered for a minimal remaining distance by running the gasoline engine. Raser then divided the full trip mileage by the small quantity of gasoline they used. Voila the behemoth vehicle was “capable” of achieving 100 MPG. Raser did not account for the energy used to charge the batteries which propelled the vehicle for the majority of the trip. This calculation was never told to then Governor Schwarzenegger or Senator Hatch. In fact Raser took these two important elected officials for a ride. In July 2009, I had Raser’s VP of Marketing David West as a guest on my Blog Talk Radio show. It was apparent that the thermodynamic knowledge and he were distant cousins. I predicted Raser’s demise and it did occur soon thereafter.
In January 2010, I followed Raser’s press release that announced that their CEO Kraig Higgenson was to be a witness at a committee hearing to be held in the US Senate on February 23, 2010. The hearing titled “Electric vehicles in the light duty automotive sector” was held before the US Senate Committee on Appropriations. For those who are interested here is the webcast of the proceedings of that hearing.
Hearing that The CEO of Raser would present the fantasy of a 100 MPG Hummer at a US Senate appropriation committee hearing got my juices flowing. I knew I would likely not be called as an attending witness to the hearing. I then submitted an essay on the science behind lithium ion batteries as an outside witness to the hearing. I knew that this essay would become part of the record. This essay titled “The Thermodynamics and Economics of Lithium Batteries” has now become the “I told you so” event foretelling the debacle of electric and plug in vehicles. The debacle started with the demise of Raser Technologies, and then continued with the disastrous performances of ENER1, Fisker, Tesla, and A 123.
One may ask: why a sole experienced Chemical Engineer could have been far more correct than all the minions of folks who benefitted from the lithium ion fake out? I think it is because I studied thermodynamics at Iowa State University in 1977 as a graduate student and I never sold out the laws of thermodynamics. I simply looked at the technology and without bias and I chose to report the science not the hope of the technology. In 2003 I had similarly written a book titled Hydrogen Hope or Hype? that simply explained energy and sustainability.
Secretary Chu and his team at the Department of Energy (including Dr. Henry Kelly who also gave testimony at the February 23, 2010 Senate hearing) had this naïve and erroneous belief that the costs of lithium ion batteries would drop as had computer chips and LCD displays. Having worked on producing computer chips and LCD displays I knew that electrons do not take up volume but the ions of chemicals and the chemicals themselves do take up volume. I knew that to lower the cost of computer chips was not a problem constrained by thermodynamics and reaction kinetics. I also knew batteries are constrained by these basic chemical engineering principals. You see I knew that hope was not a strategy to lower costs!
Unfortunately even after massive failure bordering on disgraceful waste of taxpayers’ money, Secretary of Energy Chu continues to place unbridled hope on continued cost reduction in green technology. In an article he recently coauthored in the prestigious journal Nature (Volume 488 August 16, 2012 pages 294 to 303) the Secretary admits the lithium ion batteries still cost $650 per kilowatt hour of usable energy to produce. Dr. Chu continues to believe the cost will drop to $150 per kilowatt hour by 2030. If the batteries have a production cost $650 per kilowatt hour, and the battery manufacturer needs a margin to remain in business, they have to sell the batteries to a car company for at least $800 per kilowatt hour. A car company like Tesla also has to make a margin on the sale of their car causing them to charge $1,000 per kilowatt hour in the battery pack of their car. If the base model Tesla S has a battery pack with 40 kilowatt hours, Tesla has to sell only the battery pack for $40,000. We will simply never have the $50,000 Tesla Model S for the masses. Dr. Chu you loaned Tesla almost a half billion dollars to produce the $50,000 car that cannot be produced with a profit. Profits sustain businesses!
Clint Eastwood used the metaphor of an empty chair for the absent President. I have the feeling Mr. Eastwood would use the dim flickering of an almost dead flashlight losing charge as the metaphor of the Secretary of Energy and his dream of low cost lithium ion batteries.
For me the election of 2012 is about representation. I expect the next President to listen to Science when it comes to Energy Policy. I hope my next Congressman (yes two men are running) will embrace the advice of a concerned citizen who has some wisdom to shine on the energy policy. Voting is important but representation is paramount. I do not want any more empty chairs or flashlights that are about to go out. I want the chairs to be occupied by capable leaders and I want the flashlights to shine brightly on a coherent and Science based Energy Policy. As a start I suggest that all who set energy policy read two items I have written. The first is the outside witness testimony to the US Senate from February 2010 and the second is Hydrogen Hope or Hype? my book on energy and sustainability from 2003. You see thermodynamics never changes but those who lead certainly will.