Sunday, June 25, 2006

A New Way to Ask, 'How Green Is My Conscience?'


"Call them green upgrades: easy ways for consumers to help the environment without changing their behavior. Such upgrades have been proliferating: Skiers, for example, can spend an extra $2 at some resorts to offset the pollution produced in a drive to the mountains; the money goes to environmental organizations. On Web sites like or, drivers can total a car's pollution for a year and direct a corresponding sum to clean-energy projects. "

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Friday, June 23, 2006

Air Conditioning: Our Cross to Bear

About 5.5 percent of the gasoline burned annually by America's cars and light trucks -- 7 billion gallons -- goes to run air-conditioners. That's equivalent to the total oil consumption of Indonesia, a petroleum-rich country with a population size comparable to ours. Four states -- California, Arizona, Texas and Florida -- account for 35 percent of that extra fuel consumption Fifty-six percent of refrigerants worldwide are used for air-conditioning buildings and vehicles. North America, with 6 percent of the world's people, accounts for nearly 40 percent of its refrigerant market, as well as 43 percent of all refrigerants currently "banked" inside appliances and 38 percent of the resultant global-warming effects.

Finally, in counting costs, it's important to consider not only fuel and refrigerants but also the materials -- steel, copper, plastics and a lot more -- that have gone into building up the nation's colossal tonnage of air-conditioning capacity.

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Panel Supports a Controversial Report on Global Warming


An influential and controversial paper asserting that recent warming in the Northern Hemisphere was probably unrivaled for 1,000 years was endorsed Thursday, with a few reservations, by a panel convened by the nation's pre-eminent scientific body.

More broadly, the panel examined other recent research comparing the pronounced warming trend over the last several decades with temperature shifts over the last 2,000 years. It expressed high confidence that warming over the last 25 years exceeded any peaks since 1600. And in a news conference here on Thursday, three panelists said the current warming was probably, but not certainly, beyond any peaks since the year 900

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Sunday, June 11, 2006

Pollution From Chinese Coal Casts a Global Shadow


Unless China finds a way to clean up its coal plants and the thousands of factories that burn coal, pollution will soar both at home and abroad. The increase in global-warming gases from China's coal use will probably exceed that for all industrialized countries combined over the next 25 years, surpassing by five times the reduction in such emissions that the Kyoto Protocol seeks.

The sulfur dioxide produced in coal combustion poses an immediate threat to the health of China's citizens, contributing to about 400,000 premature deaths a year. It also causes acid rain that poisons lakes, rivers, forests and crops.

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Friday, June 09, 2006

Coming soon: Cars that get 100 miles per gallon

Coming soon: Cars that get 100 miles per gallon

Last modified: April 25, 2006, 4:00 AM PDT
By Michael Kanellos
Staff Writer, CNET

A car that doesn't need gas, or at least not much, is getting slightly more realistic all the time.

A few small companies will start to offer services and products for converting hybrid cars like the Toyota Prius that currently get around 50 miles per gallon into plug-in hybrids that rely more heavily on electrical power and can get about 100 miles per gallon.

"I get about 99 miles to the gallon," said Felix Kramer, founder of The California Cars Initiative (CalCars), who owns the eighth Prius converted into a plug-in hybrid. "When gasoline costs $3 a gallon, driving most gasoline cars costs 8 to 20 cents a mile. With a plug-in hybrid, your local travel and commuting can go down to 2 to 4 cents a mile."

In general, plug-in hybrids have much larger battery packs than standard hybrids--in prototypes, the extra batteries fill up the space where spare tires now reside--and much smaller gas motors. The batteries can be recharged by plugging the car into any wall socket.

Under 34 miles per hour, the electric motor effectively powers the car on its own, said Kramer. Over that--and during bursts of acceleration--the gas motor begins to help incrementally. The gas motor also takes over when the battery conks.

"Sixty-five percent of drivers will not use gas on a daily basis. The only time you ever use gasoline is when you go on vacation or go skiing," said Andrew Frank, a professor of mechanical engineering at the University of California at Davis who has made plug-in hybrids out of stock Mercury Sables and a Chevy Suburban. The Suburban has been tested on General Motors' off-road track.

"It would do the same thing as a conventional Suburban, including towing a trailer," he added.

It all comes down to cost
But conversion won't be cheap--at least initially. California's EDrive Systems will charge around $10,000 to $12,000 to install the extra lithium batteries needed to turn a standard Prius into a plug-in hybrid when its service begins later this summer.

At that price, and with gas at $3 a gallon, it would take around 160,000 to 200,000 miles of driving to break even. As a result, conversion services today are really being sold more as a luxury option or status symbol.

But some groups are looking to the do-it-yourself crowd for a cheaper solution. Canada's Hymotion, which already converts fleets of hybrids for corporate customers, will charge about $9,500 for a kit aimed at consumers that it will start shipping in October. And Hymotion can convert more than just the Prius.

CalCars is working with independent inventors to bring the price of a DIY kit based around an open blueprint to about $3,000.

"Our goal for the build kit is this summer, but making this happen will be a volunteer project--as are most open-source efforts--so I'm not in a position to promise," Kramer said.

Mass manufacturing, though, could lower the prices dramatically over time. Frank estimates that a plug-in hybrid with a 60-mile range (meaning the car can run on electricity alone for up to 60 miles) might cost only $6,000 to $7,000 more to mass manufacture than a conventional car in a few years. A standard hybrid currently goes for about $3,000 more than gasoline-driven cars.

To get to that point, however, battery technology, which tends to progress slowly, will need to improve. Auto manufacturers will have to improve the transmissions and other components that go into a hybrid.

The high cost is one of the primary reasons that major auto manufacturers have been lukewarm to the concept of plug-in cars, engineers at large auto manufacturers have said. Finding ways to stash the battery without compromising passenger or cargo room is another.

Nonetheless, some automakers have shown interest. DaimlerChrysler will produce 40 plug-in versions of its Sprinter minivan for testing the concept. No commitment has been made to turn it into a product.

Over several years, the cars also can pave the way toward nearly pollution-free cars, said Frank. Because gasoline consumption is modest, it will likely be possible to build plug-in hybrids that burn ethanol rather than gas.

For electricity, the cars could harvest solar power from solar panels installed in garages or houses. Although electric motors don't pollute, electricity gets generated in coal-burning plants, one of the largest sources of greenhouse gases.

Solar isn't as farfetched as it sounds, Frank said. Studies show that most cars are on the road for only three hours a day and could be charged the remaining hours. Installing solar panels on garage roofs and homes will take a bit of capital, but the costs of making and installing solar technology are expected to go down over time as well.

"We can't switch from where we are today overnight. It will take 20 years or more to take the PHEV (plug-in hybrid electric vehicle) to get into our society," Frank said. Nonetheless, "we can greatly reduce the amount of liquid fuel we use for transportation," he said.

Sunday, June 04, 2006

One Farm Town's Drive for Energy Independence

by Monica Davey, NY Times

The State of Indiana first brought the idea to Reynolds last year, calling it BioTown, in an experiment Gov. Mitch Daniels acknowledged could be viewed as a bit of "a stunt." But in the ensuing months and as the price of gasoline soared, Reynolds adopted the notion as its own, and residents began speaking passionately of an end to their reliance on foreign oil and of the potential electricity they could envision in the more than 150,000 pigs that wander nearby.

Since November, nearly 100 of the community's residents have begun driving cars that can run on ethanol-based fuel, as has the employee who drives one of the town's three vehicles. The other two town cars have been replaced with diesel vehicles, so they can run on bio-diesel fuel like vegetable oil.

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