“Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle” - Often attributed to Plato but likely from Ian McLaren (pseudonym of Reverend John Watson)

Saturday, April 12, 2014

How the navy will turn seawater into fuel - SmartPlanet

How the navy will turn seawater into fuel - SmartPlanet:

'via Blog this'

Most interesting. I will need to speak to my more expert friends to understand what effect fuel made from CO2 from seawater, burned, and exhausted to the atmosphere might have on the ocean-atmosphere system.

ETA ("edited to add"): Lest no one misconstrue, this is NOT any sort of magic. The process requires significant energy input, that is, the EROEI ("energy return on energy invested") is less than one. In that sense, it's similar to hydrogen as a fuel. Yes, hydrogen can be burned or combined with oxygen in a fuel cell to provide motive power, but the energy required to get the hydrogen from natural gas or water exceeds that available from the internal combustion engine or fuel cell. But this technology would enable renewable energy sources such as solar, wind, OTEC (ocean thermal energy conversion) etc. to produce fuel that could be used for transportation, stored for burning in gas turbines for peaking power, etc. Also, see this article from the U.S. Navy Research Laboratory. Particularly take note of some of the skeptical comments.

Drag and weight as parameters of fuel economy in passenger cars

Image credit: www.modified.com
I've published previously that, for my car of that time that, below about 50 m.p.h., rolling resistance is the greater contributor to my need to burn fuel and above, it's aerodynamic drag. That vehicle was a Land Rover LR3 HSE, a much larger, heavier, draggier vehicle than my current chariot (a Lexus CT200h). Going through the same calculations, I find the crossover point to be about 38 m.p.h. That is (at steady speeds), below 38 m.p.h, rolling resistance provides the greater force to be overcome by burning fuel (or running electrons from high potential to low), above 38 m.p.h., it's aerodynamic drag. Below is a graphic taking these fractions from 0 to 40 m/s (about 89 m.p.h., far above my maximum). It should be noted that, in all of this, I only consider the external forces being overcome.

At my highway speed of 55 m.p.h., about 68% of my fuel is burned to overcome aerodynamic drag. And, since something like 70% of the miles I drive are on the freeway at my typical freeway speed, it's clear that drag represents a large portion of my fuel expenditures.

So let's take a look at how fuel economy in miles per gallon varies with the coefficient of aerodynamic drag (Cd). Below is a graphic showing an estimate of fuel economy as a function of Cd at 60 m.p.h. for a Toyota Camry-like vehicle (note that axes are not zero scaled). While the curve in this range looks to be close to linear, over larger ranges it's not, since fuel economy is inversely proportional to Cd and thus the graph is that of a hyperbola.

So what can be accomplished by reducing Cd from, say, 0.32 to 0.29? At 60 m.p.h. (and using my very simple model), this would result (for the Camry-like vehicle) in an increase from about 47.5 m.p.g. to 50.7 m.p.g. In a typical 12,000 mile year with 50% of the miles driven at highway speed, this would save some 8 gallons of fuel that might cost $32. Meh.

I attended a conference sponsored by the American Physical Society entitled "Physics of Sustainable Energy" (this was the third triennial such conference, I attended the second as well) at UC Berkeley. Amory Lovins of the Rocky Mountain Institute was the banquet speaker and made a presentation during the course sequence as well. Mr. (though Lovins has several honorary doctorates, I'm not sure that the "Dr." honorific is appropriate) Lovins has a huge portfolio of concepts that he claims, if implemented, would result in massive reductions in energy use in buildings (industrial, commercial, institutional, residential), transportation, and manufacturing. As time allows, I'll look into some of these.

But with respect to the topic of this post, Mr. Lovins stated that "two thirds of the energy used in a personal car is mass dependent." It seemed high when I heard it, let's consider. Energy is used in a car to accelerate (very much mass dependent but, in a hybrid, some of the kinetic energy imparted by accelerating a car's mass can be recovered by regenerative braking during deceleration), climb hills (very much mass dependent but descending hills can recover some, and in the case of hybrids with regenerative braking, much of the energy used in climbing), overcoming rolling resistance (mass dependent), overcoming aerodynamic drag (not mass dependent), and overcoming drive line friction and inertia moments of the rotating masses (both indirectly mass dependent in that lighter cars will need smaller, less powerful engines and, hence, lighter drive line components).

So, a lot of the energy is mass dependent. Is two-thirds a reasonable estimation? This is a complex question and will vary by car and by driver, but surely we can approach it. I'll assume that the car is not a hybrid. In addition to the usual coefficient of rolling resistance (Crr) assumptions, a number of others are required, among them: fraction of city vs. highway miles (I assumed 0.4 and 0.6); stops and starts per mile for both city and highway (I assumed 4 highway accelerations per 25 miles and 4 per mile in the city), engine efficiency (I assumed 22%). I ignored hill climbing (this would sway the fraction we're seeking higher). Should my readership clamor for it, I can elaborate on the process I used to calculate. In the end though, my estimate of the fraction of energy used in mass dependent aspects of fuel economy in this personal vehicle is 37%.

It's actually more complex than this since, at very low speeds, a large proportion of the energy used is devoted to keeping the engine going. In the extreme, stopped at a light, all of it is (though in my hybrid, the engine shuts off at a stop and I used to turn off the engine in my LR3 to eliminate this). And the amount of energy devoted to keeping the engine turning is dependent on the size of the engine and, thus, on the mass of the car. This argues for increasing the estimate of the mass dependent portion of energy used. But for the car I'm considering, it's hard for me to imagine that that portion exceeds half.

It's clear though that changes in the assumptions will have a large effect on this calculation. For example, reducing the highway portion would increase mass dependent energy; decreasing the average stop/accelerate cycles per mile in city driving would decrease it. In any event, it's clear that mass reduction in a vehicle will significantly enhance fuel economy. This post is already pretty long, so I'll elaborate in a future post.

Sunday, April 06, 2014

Elio Motors proposes an 84 m.p.g. "car"

The Elio Motors three wheeler is a design by Paul Elio that is expected to achieve a highway fuel economy of 84 m.p.g. (and a city fuel economy of 49 m.p.g.). The vehicle is expected to be on sale in 2015 at a price of $6,800. The price includes air conditioning, power windows, power door lock, AM/FM stereo, "and more." It's expected to have a 5 Star Crash Test Rating (the Elio has a reinforced roll cage, antilock brake system, stability control, airbags, and is made from carbon fiber composite).

It's not actually a "car" in the sense that we commonly think of them, it's a three wheeled vehicle. It seats two in a tandem configuration. For most states, that means that the Elio is regulated as a motorcycle (and in some states, a helmet will be required as things stand now). Pre-orders for the vehicle (with deposit) are said to be at 12,000, and Paul Elio believes that he can sell 250,000 Elios per year.

I can think of several applications where such a vehicle could excel. For example, I drive to work alone nearly every day and, in fact, well over 90% of the miles I drive my Lexus CT 200h are solo. I ran a quick check and the Elio would reduce my 400 gallons per year to 322 gallons for a savings of something like $312. Were I buying a new car, such a choice might be attractive at the $6,800 price point.

The Elio would likely also be a good candidate for a second vehicle for grocery shopping and other errands in a soccer mom family with the requisite minivan or SUV.

What about taxis? Here it's not so clear. The only door is to the driver's left and the rear seat is, charitably speaking, not optimized for the passenger experience (not to say claustrophobia inducing). And much taxi driving is in cities, where the Elio doesn't do any better than a Prius hybrid (and lots of my taxi rides recently have been in Priuses).

Fleet vehicles? Possibly, it certainly depends on the fleet and its intended use. What about for rental agencies? Here I'm also not so sure. I don't put a lot of miles on my rental cars when I'm out of town, I'm not so sure that I'm atypical. Thus, the fuel economy might not be particularly attractive. On the other hand, if the rental agency were to reduce the rental charge in proportion to the acquisition price of the Elio, we might have a deal.

Elio has a variety of fascinating financing options, the best article on those that I've seen is at this article in "the truth about cars" web site. The basis is that you get a credit card whose balance is the remainder of what you owe on the car after your deposit/trade in credit. You make payments on the card and when you purchase gas, you're billed for three times the gasoline cost. The difference between that price and the actual cost is used to pay down the car loan balance. The theory is that you're getting three times the fuel economy so you get the new Elio without paying anything beyond what you're used to paying for fuel for your (presumably) old, inefficient vehicle.

Now, one could say that the Volt, the Leaf, etc. do better than the Elio with respect to fuel cost (be they gallons or kilowatt hours) and one would be right. And those are four seat, four wheel vehicles. But, for the price of a Volt or a Leaf, one could buy an Elio and have some $30K left over. And it would certainly seem to be strong competition for the two seat Smart Car.

What about the mileage claim? The vehicle weighs about 1,000 pounds and sports a 70 horsepower, three cylinder engine. It doesn't look to be an aerodynamically smooth vehicle, but aerodynamics can be extremely deceiving. I can find no figures on drag coefficient or frontal area. But such trifles haven't stopped me before, so I'm going to plug and chug to see what results.

I'll assume a weight with driver of 1,170 pounds, a Cd of 0.32 (purely a guess, and one that I think favors the vehicle), tire rolling resistance coefficient of 0.0085 (assuming that Elio will go with low rolling resistance tires), an efficiency for the internal combustion engine of 30%, a frontal area of 2.3 m2 and a highway speed of 60 m.p.h. Running this in my little Mathematica model of vehicle fuel economy yields an estimate of 67 m.p.g., 17 m.p.g. below Elio's claim. I think I've been generous with respect to engine efficiency, so the likely areas where I've "cheated" the Elio would be drag coefficient and frontal area. Frankly, I think I've been pretty generous here as well, so I'll be very surprised if the typical driver* achieves 84 m.p.g.

Finally, I have to apologize for the lack of posts in the last nearly three months. As my karate instructor made us say when he asked us why we made some mistake in form or execution, "NO EXCUSE SIR!"

*Driving at 55 m.p.h. as I do yields an estimate of 78 m.p.g.