Archive for the ‘Oil Dependence’ Category

Promising Technology: Creating Renewable Hydrogen

Monday, July 8th, 2013

As alternative fuel vehicles (AFVs) continue to become more economically viable, fuel source and renewability remains a key point of discussion. Although AFVs like fuel cell electric vehicles (FCEVs) can eliminate fossil fuel dependence while reducing air pollution and greenhouse gas emissions, many interested parties take a life-cycle approach by questioning the source of the energy used. If the energy carried in a fuel cell doesn’t come from a clean or renewable source, then the vehicle powered by that fuel cell isn’t exactly clean or renewable.

For FCEVs, cost remains the primary challenge to produce 100 percent renewable hydrogen.

The commercial hydrogen market is currently around $100 billion. According to the U.S. Department of Energy’s Alternative Fuels Data Center, 9 million tons of hydrogen is produced annually in the United States, 95% of which is produced through natural gas reformation. Natural gas reforming is currently the cheapest, most common and efficient method for producing hydrogen. When used in a FCEV, natural gas derived hydrogen reduces greenhouse gas emissions approximately 50%, when compared to conventional gasoline. However, to reach long-term climate goals, we need close to 100% reduction.

A potential solution to the challenges of production costs and environmental impact lies in the research conducted by Y.H. Percival Zhang at Virginia Tech’s College of Agriculture and Life Sciences.  Zhang and his team successfully developed a process to produce large quantities of hydrogen from the simple plant sugar xylose, an abundant renewable resource. The innovative technology avoids using expensive metals and releases close to zero greenhouse gases. This could shorten the timeline for making renewable hydrogen commercially available, which would have huge environmental and economic impacts.

When applied at commercial scale, Zhang’s research has the potential to deliver affordable, renewable, emissions-free hydrogen., It does so simply and efficiently, eliminating costs at each step of the process.  Researchers isolate the necessary enzymes and catalytic reactions required to produce the highest yields of hydrogen from sugar and water. This specific enzyme cocktail works in toxic environments, which removes an expensive detoxification step, and can be produced by one bacterium. By using recyclable enzyme-based solvents, Zhang found lower cost replacements for the traditional high-heat, high-pressure process. Using biomass to generate hydrogen drastically reduces greenhouse gas emissions. Additionally, the process allow for energy efficiency above 100% – meaning that the energy of hydrogen produced is greater than the combined input energies of xylose and polyphosphate.

This efficient, environmentally friendly method of hydrogen production is just one example of many potential pathways for creating renewable hydrogen. With the science in place, the right economics can lead this, and other, renewable hydrogen production methods to commercial viability and success. Such as outcome would be a victory for everyone: a clean, domestic, renewable, and affordable fuel to power our mobility.

The Call for Infrastructure

Tuesday, April 23rd, 2013

“The challenges for fuel cell vehicles in the long run appear to be entirely on the infrastructure side… we have to begin to invest in that infrastructure now, as the advance placement of infrastructure is critical to the market acceptance of fuel cell vehicles.”

-John German, ICCT Sr. Fellow
Transitioning the U.S. light-duty vehicle fleet

A recent U.S. National Research Council report on light-duty (cars and small trucks) vehicle technologies discussed the feasibility of reaching two goals:

  • 50% petroleum reduction in 2030
  • 80% petroleum and greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions reductions in 2050

This reduction goal is measured against a 2005 baseline, and researchers concluded that with the right policy incentives, combination of vehicle technologies, and added infrastructure for those technologies, it is possible to achieve these targets.

The study considered multiple policy options in modeling the outcomes of potential technology mixes, and considered purchasing prices and energy efficiencies – two major factors that affect market acceptance. Newer technologies like compressed natural gas and battery (BEV), plug-in (PHEV), or fuel cell (FCEV) electric have higher initial costs. However, long-term assessments show that BEVs and FCEVs become less expensive than both internal combustion vehicles and other alternative fuel vehicles.

High-volume retail price equivalents

Reducing vehicle weight, aerodynamic drag, and tire rolling resistance, has a greater effect on lowering costs for BEVs and FCEVs than for conventional vehicles. In the long run, FCEVs are shown to be significantly better than conventional vehicles, with cheaper purchase prices, comparable range and refill times, higher efficiency, better drivability, and better space utilization of drive train components.

The major challenge to high-volume FCEV production, which is the assumption made in the above predictions, is infrastructure. John German, the ICCT Senior Fellow who headed the subcommittee that analyzed alternative vehicle technologies, explained that while predicting technology development may be highly uncertain, the investment into infrastructure must begin NOW.

Addressing this challenge, EIN currently leads a multi-stakeholder effort to develop a network-level plan for hydrogen infrastructure deployment in California. If successfully implemented, it will serve as a blueprint for market introduction at national and international levels. This plan will establish a clear pathway to market success for the infrastructure needed to support commercial levels of hydrogen FCEVs.

According to the NRC study only three potential scenarios could meet or exceed the goals of 50% petroleum reduction in 2030 and 80% GHG reduction in 2050; all three of those scenarios require significant market penetration of FCEVs. The first is based on optimistic assumptions for FCEV technology, and the other two both require PHEV and FCEV market success.

By modeling a policy-induced transition to hydrogen FCEVs by 2050, the study estimated a net present value of around $1 trillion. This scenario assumes both $6 billion annual subsidies through the mid-2020s and 500 geographically clustered hydrogen-refueling stations (subsidized or mandated) by 2016. In other words, the long-term benefits far outweigh the nearer-term costs associated with a transition to FCEVs.

FCEV adoption has both private and social benefits.  Private benefits include consumer fuel savings, satisfaction with vehicle purchases, and satisfaction with fuel purchases. Social benefits include reductions in GHG emissions and petroleum use – in this scenario, petroleum consumption could be reduced by about 90-96% and GHG emissions by 59-80%.

Vehicle sales by vehicle technology for midrange technologies and policies promoting the adoption and use of PHEVs, FCEVs, and biofuels.

The study goes on to state that for hydrogen FCEVs, advance placement of fueling infrastructure is critical to market acceptance, as the availability of refueling stations directly affects consumer demand.  It is clear that a coordinated effort is essential to achieving petroleum and GHG reductions goals – and it is even more clear that investments in and development of such infrastructure must occur early on in the transition.

Find out more about EIN’s work with hydrogen fuel cell vehicles and infrastructure here.

Gasoline Prices Worldwide and Its New, Greener Competitors

Monday, February 6th, 2012

Well into the second month of the New Year, Americans continue to feel that all too familiar sting at the gas pumps. Though it is very clear that citizens remain unhappy about the current cost of fuel found at gas stations nationwide, Californians coming in at about $3.71 per gallon of regular unleaded, they may find themselves frowning a little less often once they hear how much other countries are paying for that same gallon. The US national average for regular unleaded as of January 25th was $3.39 per gallon, about $0.28 higher than prices last year at this time. Canada faces an average national price of about $4.67 per gallon with Japan reaching approximately $6.98 per gallon according to a report conducted by the International Energy Agency in December of 2011. France, Germany and Italy saw unleaded premium prices (95 RON) of $7.40, $7.51, and $7.83 per gallon respectively with the United Kingdom following at about $6.42 per gallon as of January. The IEA also reported Spain reaching a price of $6.44 per gallon with Australia’s national average trailing in at $5.45 per gallon. Lastly, Mexico currently pays a very tempting $2.86 per gallon for regular unleaded as a result of federally funded gasoline subsidies – a program whose extent remains uncertain.  

So with the majority of the world paying much more at the pump, why is it that our prices remain so low in comparison? Well for one thing, the governments in these countries with higher prices tax far more per gallon than our own does. For instance, Germany, the UK, and Japan pay $4.42, $4.76, and $3.10 in taxes alone respectively, while the US only pays about $0.41 for every gallon purchased as of the end of 2011. Furthermore, subsidies offered to the oil industry by the national government also work to keep US prices low through corporate income tax breaks, tax-free construction bonds, and the funding of programs that mainly benefit motorists and the oil industry.  

With the US national average price of gasoline expected to be even higher in 2013, Americans may find themselves looking for even the smallest amount of relief when it comes to transportation fuel costs. Surprisingly and fortunately, it can be found in the very alternative fuels that were once believed to be more expensive than their conventional counterparts. According to a recent report conducted by the US Department of Energy in October of 2011, ethanol (E85) and compressed natural gas (CNG) averaged $3.19 per gallon and $2.09 per gasoline gallon equivalent (GGE), respectively. Similarly, propane averaged $3.06 per gallon and biodiesel (B20) averaged $3.91 per gallon – with ethanol, propane and biodiesel showing a decrease in national averages from the last fuel report. Furthermore, the costs associated with driving a plug-in hybrid electric vehicle (PHEV) are equivalent to about $0.75 per gallon of gasoline according to a study done by the Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI) in 2007. Though the years to come may not bode well for conventional fuel prices, American citizens who currently depend on gasoline have cheaper, alternative fuel options that they can migrate to with their next vehicle. These fuel advances have come a long way and are far more appealing than they once were: they can increase energy independence, decrease emissions, and save consumers money.   

By Christine Jaramillo

Zero Emissions Vehicles For All Drivers

Monday, October 24th, 2011

In our society's quest for energy independence, its important to remember that no one solution is going solve our oil addiction problem.  We consume A LOT of oil. People naturally have different driving habits and transportation needs. To truly reach a sustainable transportation system, we need to have zero emissions vehicles that can meet the driving demand of all drivers. This means zero tailpipe emissions today,and moving towards zero energy production emissions in the future. Check out this EIN video to learn more:

For a list of references for facts stated in the video, please click here.

Pain at the Pumps

Wednesday, March 16th, 2011
Over the last month, gas prices in California approached and then roared passed the $4 per gallon mark. This significant price threshold has many California residents reeling from the painful price of a fill up, and is a bitter reminder of our overwhelming reliance on oil as our single energy source in the transportation sector.

It seems all to soon that a price shock like this should occur after EIN’s Policy Director, Remy Garderet, co-authored a report earlier this year titled Shockproofing Society: How California’s Global Warming Solutions Act (AB 32) Reduces the Economic Pain of Energy Price Shocks. The report concluded that AB 32 would save the average household up to $670 in 2020 if oil and natural gas prices spike – up to $9 billion at the pump, or up to $30 billion on annual energy imports. By significantly reducing the consumption of fossil fuels in California, AB 32 will reduce consumers exposure to crude oil price spikes like the one we are currently experiencing in California. Click here to view a Fact Sheet summary of the Shockproofing Society study.

The recent oil price spike being felt at the pump makes HR910, Congressman Fred Upton’s (R-Mi) bill being worked through the House, incredibly scary.  In short, the bill would end the EPA’s ability to regulate greenhouse gas emissions (GHG) and California’s ability to improve air quality by setting strong tailpipe standards.  Why does this matter?  Reducing GHG emissions has the ancillary benefit of reducing petroleum consumption, the exact move our economy needs to reduce the impact of inevitable future oil price shocks.

The 2012 – 2016 federal fuel economy and GHG emissions standards, developed in partnership between the EPA, NHTSA, and CARB, illustrate the benefit of smart emissions policy.  The EPA estimates that the standards will save our economy $240 Billion, at a cost of $52 Billion, while providing the emissions reduction equivalent of taking 58 million cars off the road for one year.  HR910 would seriously undermine our government’s ability to set similar policies in the future.

Instead of setting our economy on course toward energy independence, HR910 follows the “Drill anywhere and everywhere” logic championed by vocal a subgroup of politicians, who argue the need to open “any and every” natural resource to satisfy our insatiable thirst for oil. Even President Obama is prepared to encourage new drilling in the face of rising gas prices. However, while the opening of oil drilling in off and onshore domestic regions might modestly lessen our immediate foreign dependence on oil, it is not a sustainable long-term energy policy.  As the President announced his support for safely developing existing, unused oil leases, he reminded us of a critical fact: expanding drilling is not a sustainable long-term energy policy option given that our nation consumes one-quarter of the world’s oil but controls only two percent of the world’s reserves.

The key to alleviating our susceptibility to oil price shocks lies in strong policies focused on reducing our oil dependence, creating market certainty for new renewable energy and clean tech sectors, and accounting for the true cost of oil production and consumption by putting a price on its externalities. HR 910 would do the opposite, and as anyone who has filled up recently can attest, that is bad policy.

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