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A Parallel World of

Electric Plug-in & Hybrid Vehicles

Challenge

How does America end its oil dependence once and for all? For many of us, our love affairs with our cars have now soured into love/hate relationships. We have come to rely upon the mobility and independence we derive from our car ownership. However, the internal combustion engine propelling all that easy transportation contributes to about a third of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions. Can Americans begin to embrace a new way of transporting themselves? As it turns out, they dabbled with electric vehicles about a hundred years ago and are now way past the dabbling stage. APW transportation has arrived!

A Short History of Electric Vehicles

Some form of electric car has been with us ever since a Scot invented the first crude electric carriage around 1835. By 1900, 28 percent of the 4,192 cars produced in the United States were powered by electricity. When, just eight years later, Henry Ford introduced the mass-produced and gasoline-powered Model T, the electric car began losing steam. By the 1920s, the electric car was no longer a practical commercial product and gasoline became the “king of the road.”

However, in the mid-nineteen hundreds, America began to realize the environmental, political and economic costs of its oil dependence. The nation turned its attention once more to electric vehicles. In the late 1960s, the renewed interest in electric cars showed progress moving toward a fully functioning electric car. However, political foot-dragging by powerfully entrenched oil interests weighed heavily on the electric car’s success in the marketplace. Then, in 1997, Toyota unveiled the Prius, as the world’s “first commercially mass-produced electric/hybrid car.” The only catch was that at the time they were only available in Japan.

Availability

Today, availability is no longer a problem. In 2013 alone, over 200,000 Prius were sold in the U.S. along with nearly 300,000 other hybrids. In addition, there are now nine manufacturers offering no less than 17 plug-in cars, all highway-capable. There are also several electric motorcycle models and neighborhood electric vehicles (restricted to 45 miles per hour limited roads). For those drivers ready to “dump the pump,” the choices available at this time are better than ever.

As the electric vehicle market has scaled-up, their unit sticker prices have come down. This cost reduction becomes even more enhanced with the still generous income-tax credit for the same year the vehicle was purchased. With their ever-increasing battery life, travel range and speed, electric vehicles are poised to become the dominant mode of transportation sooner than later.

The question is no longer about whether the time is right to buy an electric vehicle but rather, which one to buy. Which one most suits your lifestyle and pocket book? Let us begin with a few basics.

Types of Electric Vehicles

Pressure on America to relieve itself of foreign oil dependence continues to spur on development of electric transportation technology. According to engine type, electric vehicles come in four major categories. Their advance is an interesting evolution and where the technology goes appears to be a wide-open field.

Hybrid

So far, the hybrid electric has had the most commercial success; with the most successful being, Toyota’s famed Prius. However, Honda, Ford, Lincoln, Mercury, Chevrolet and Hyundai offer a variety of hybrids as well. Considered a “transition vehicle,” the hybrid has a small electric battery that supplements a standard internal combustion engine. The electric motor accelerates the car to about 40 mph before the gasoline-powered engine takes over. Fuel efficiency is increased about 25 percent. There are about 4 million hybrids on U.S. roads today and that number continues to rise rapidly.

Plug-in Hybrid

The plug-in hybrid is similar to the standard hybrid. In addition, a dual-fuel vehicle, it has a larger battery that is charged directly from the power grid. The plug-in’s internal combustion engine tends to be smaller than those used in the standard hybrids are. Its advantage is its extended use of electricity because it can be recharged from an electric outlet.

Extended-Range Vehicle

Think of the extended-range vehicles as a phasing out of gasoline. In these cars, gas is no longer doing the propelling. Its tiny internal combustion engine is only powering an electric generator that charges the battery system. Only the electric motor is powering the extended-range vehicle.

Battery Electric Vehicle (BEV)

With battery electric vehicles, there is no internal combustion engine at all. No gasoline is used at all! The BEV’s batteries are recharged by plugging into the electric power grid. And, for a real APW experience, you can power up that sporty little commuter car from your solar panels. For most commuters, one day’s electricity production from one solar panel gets you back and forth to work for free!

Electric Motorcycles

In one form or another, electric motorcycles, like electric cars, have been around for over a hundred years. Using the same technology as battery electric vehicles, there are no less than a dozen electric motorcycle manufacturers. Upstart American companies like Zero Motorcycles have gotten a ten-year head start on long-established Yamaha and Bultaco, who are just now entering the market. These fun and affordable machines offer true pollution-free, sustainable and nearly free transportation.

Electric Bicycles

No story on electric vehicles would be complete without mentioning electric bicycles. And as with its bigger brothers, there is a great variety of different types covering a wide spectrum of prices. They can have tiny motors that are only “assisting” the rider’s pedaling. Or they can be cranked-up to moped-sized engines that get you to where you want to go very quickly.

DIYers / Custom Kits

While the number of these off-the-shelf, mass-produced vehicles continue to grow, they are not the only option for APW. Custom kits have been available for decades for those ready to convert a gasoline vehicle into an electric one.

—Gershon Siegel landed his first paid writing gig in 1978 at the once-great late Berkeley Barb. In that tradition, for twelve years he published and edited the small, feisty Sun Monthly based in Santa Fe, New Mexico. He’s a long-time observer of the individual’s struggle to find its proper place within society. As a result, he is more than ready to participate in reconciling Karl Marx and Ayn Rand. He is the editor for A Parallel World News.


A Parallel World of

Bicycles

The Challenge

Convince people now dependent on gasoline-powered vehicles for all their transportation needs to use bicycles when it is appropriate.

A Short History of the Bicycle and Its Current Popularity

The invention of the bicycle seems tangled in myth and half-truths. One controversial claim credits a Leonardo da Vinci pupil with the first bike-like machine sketch. However, the first verifiable versions of a two-wheeled, human-propelled vehicle first appeared in Europe in the early 1800s.

Because these proto-bikes were expensive, impractical, uncomfortable and even dangerous, they never really made it past being fads. In the late 1800s, however, innovations of design and advances in metallurgy brought bikes to a much wider population. By the turn of the 20th century, both sides of the Atlantic boasted cycling clubs.

With the popularity of affordable bikes for the masses came a number of unintended consequences to society. To the chagrin of many men, women who chose to ride bikes stopped wearing their traditional long skirts and bustles. Famed suffragist Susan B. Anthony went as far as crediting bicycles as the major contributor to female emancipation.

America’s infrastructure and economy was impacted as well. Cycling enthusiasts and manufacturers promoted and actively litigated for better roads. In order to bring costs down, mass production became more refined. Such innovations literally paved the way for entrepreneurs such as Henry Ford and other automobile manufacturing.

More Efficient, Healthier and Cleaner

For many decades, the modern bike has served as reliable transportation in many regions. Worldwide there are twice as many bikes on the road than automobiles. Since America’s biking craze of the late 1960s, bike manufacturers began selling millions more bikes appealing to the adult population. Today, those considering a bike as a rational alternative to the automobile have never had more or better choices.

When it comes to the most efficient means of transportation, nothing beats bicycling, including walking! A cyclist will burn 100 calories to pedal three miles. Of course, those calories come from food, a renewable source of energy. An automobile, on the other hand, can move just 280 feet on 100 calories derived from non-renewable fossil fuel. Whether you are looking for recreation and exercise or a zero-carbon, low-cost way of commuting, nothing beats a bike!

Many Choices, Many Price Tags

Given how many types of bikes there are, going into a bike store can be overwhelming if you are not prepared. You will get the best bike at the best price by giving some thought to the matter before making your purchase. First, decide how you will be using your bike. Is it for exercise? Is it for recreation or sport? Do you intend to commute on it?

Some familiarity with the major categories of bicycles will be a huge plus. Do not expect to know them all since there are so many. Bikes can be divided by function, by sport, by frame design, by material, by rider position, by gearing and even by the number of riders.

Many all of these classes of bikes represent a continuum in which certain characteristics from one type will be blended with another type. The following is not an exhaustive list by any means.

Road Bikes

A “road” bicycle is designed to move with speed on paved roads. They will have narrow, high-pressure tires, be of a lightweight construction and will usually have derailleur gears. Depending on how they are outfitted, they can also be considered “racing bicycles.”

Touring Bikes

A “touring” bike is for long journeys. These are durable, comfortable, equipped to carry baggage and have a wide gear range to accommodate riding up and down hills.

Mountain Bikes

The “mountain” bike is made for off-road. Their frames are sturdy and their wide-gauge deep treaded tires are made for gaining traction over rough terrain. These bikes can come with suspension systems to help absorb sudden shocks.

Hybrid Bikes

The “hybrids” have a light frame, derailleur gearing, medium gauge wheels and handlebars for more upright riding. They are a blending of the mountain and racing bikes.

Commuter Bikes

The “commuter” bike, as its name implies, is designed for commuting over short or even long distances. Its frame comes with mounting points for attaching baskets or panniers. These bikes will often come with a chain guard to prevent a rider’s long pants from catching. Front and rear fenders on these bikes help get you to work without water or mud splashing up on your clothes.

City Bikes

A “city” bike is basically a sturdier version of a commuter bike, deriving much of its design from the mountain bike.  Like the commuter bike, this vehicle will often come with front and rear lights.

Obviously, bikes are not going to completely replace automobiles (electric- or gas-powered) anytime soon. There will be many times when riding a bike is not a real option when it comes to transportation.

However, there will be many times when hopping on a bike is the best choice you can make for yourself and the planet. Besides efficiency, bikes offer: improved cardiovascular; communing with nature; a chance to meet your neighbors; slowing down your pace of life. The reliable bike — old technology made new again.

Resources

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_bicycle_types

http://www.exploratorium.edu/cycling/humanpower1.html

—Gershon Siegel landed his first paid writing gig in 1978 at the once-great late Berkeley Barb. In that tradition, for twelve years he published and edited the small, feisty Sun Monthly based in Santa Fe, New Mexico. He’s a long-time observer of the individual’s struggle to find its proper place within society. As a result, he’s more than ready to participate in reconciling Karl Marx and Ayn Rand. He is the editor for A Parallel World News


A Parallel World of

Advanced Biofuels from Waste

The Challenge

Satisfying America’s giant thirst for fuel with gasoline made from advanced biofuels from waste instead of oil and food crops.

The United States is required to dispose of 1.6 billion tons of waste. These sources include solid municipal waste, industrial waste, agricultural waste and landscape and forest waste. Landfills all over the country are expensive to maintain and leak methane, a major green house gas. It turns out that all this carbon-based waste is extremely valuable. In the film series “Back to the Future”, when the time machine was activated, it used nuclear material for fuel. However, when it returned its fuel was made from banana peels and other organic garbage. The crazy thing is, this is turning out to be true.

History

The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act or the “stimulus plan” was partly a stimulus. However, more than half was “Reinvestment” in the American industrial base. The ARRA was successful at leapfrogging over existing technologies, making it financially feasible to use biological systems to replace our reliance on dwindling oil reserves. The biggest leap has been in Advanced Biofuels, making it possible to cost effectively produce liquid fuels from organic waste. Waste, such as sewage, farm waste, tree thinning and solid municipal waste, and the first “at scale” plants have come on line.

Over the last five years, significant research has been invested into commercializing Advanced Biofuels like Cellulosic Ethanol, Butylene and Biodiesel. It turns out that these 1.6 Billion tons of waste that we already collected, and must dispose of, is made up primarily of Cellulose. A number of technologies exist that enable us to yield around 100 gallons of fuel per ton of waste. Or, around 160 Billion gallons of liquid fuel per year, which is around our annual liquid fuel consumption. Without growing anything, using any water, or adding any extra shipping, the feedstock to replace oil is being dumped into the ground and buried. Over one Billion gallons of advanced bio-fuels was produced in 2013.  (http://www.biofuelsdigest.com/bdigest/2013/08/28/advanced-biofuels-passes-1-billion-gallons-in-capacity-e2-study/) (http://www.biofuelsdigest.com/bdigest/2014/02/27/cool-planet-breaks-ground-on-1st-commercial-the-project-company-in-pictures/)

(http://www.biofuelsdigest.com/bdigest/2013/11/28/zero-emission-vehicles-and-zero-carbon-the-chart-that-the-wall-street-journal-and-the-washington-post-dare-not-publish/)

This fuel is around net zero carbon because the waste it is made from comes from plants that were recently grown and consumed Co2. Unlike oil, a carbon that has been sequestered under ground for 50 million years and will stay there if we don’t pump it and burn it.

Venture Capitol and equity investors finance most commercial scale plants now in operation. It’s great that some waste is being used, but this represents only a tiny fraction of near-term possibilities. When that garbage truck picks up the garbage in front of your house, they have to do something with it. This processing costs money. However, that waste belongs to the municipality so if they make fuel from it, the fuel is theirs to use and sell.

Example: Santa Fe New Mexico places 150,000 tons in its landfill each year. That waste tonage could yield around 15 million gallons of fuel.  That’s around around $45M gross revenue per year. The cost to build a waste to fuel plant is around 80 Million — well within the cities bonding capacity. This technology also creates jobs that cannot be exported. It is the cities and counties that must dispose of all our waste. Now, it could turn out to be these same cities and counties that use the waste, which leads us out of our dependence of oil.

(http://www.biofuelsdigest.com/bdigest/2012/11/06/running-from-the-bear-making-biofuels-from-municipal-solid-waste/)

Action step: Choose Advanced Biofuel when available and get up to speed in the new technologies, then talk to the solid waste management department in your town. Find out how much solid waste is generated in your town and what other carbon based waste is available. Get the word out, form a group to advocate for waste to fuel development.

—Alan Hoffman is the founder of A Parallel World.

 


 

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