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In Popular Mechanics fuel-type comparison, electricity wins
May 29, 2006 (From the CalCars-News archive)
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Popular Mechanics concludes that electricity comes out on top in fuel comparisons. Below, first, The New York Times summarizes the PM article, showing electricity as the cheapest fuel, followed by excerpts from the long and worth-reading story -- whose main flaw is not recognizing that PHEVs can be combined with any of the other fuels as range extension.­2006/­05/­27/­business/­media/­27offline.html New York Times May 27, 2006 What's Offline How Many Miles to the Bushel?


TOO often, discussions of alternative energy take place in an alternative universe where prices do not matter," Popular Mechanics reports.

To remedy that, the magazine set out to figure out what it would cost to drive from New York to California using seven types of fuel.

It was not exactly an apples-to-apples comparison. Because there was not one automobile that could handle all types of fuel, the magazine tried to match the cars as closely as possible in size and weight. And the price it used for gasoline - $2.34 a gallon - is about 20 percent less than most people are now paying at the pump.

Still, the results in the cover article by Mike Allen are intriguing and surprising. The cheapest fuel was electricity. About one ton of coal would be needed to produce the requisite energy. Cost to drive coast to coast: $60. Using compressed natural gas would set a driver back $110. And biodiesel, made of used vegetable oil in the magazine's example, would cost $231.

Gasoline, as it turns out, figured in the middle of the pack. It would take 4.5 barrels of crude oil to produce the 91 gallons of gasoline necessary to get a Honda Civic coast to coast. The cost would be $213.

On the high end were E85/ethanol, a mixture of 85 percent ethanol and 15 percent gasoline, at $425, and M85/methanol, 85 percent methanol and 15 percent gasoline, at $619. And then there was hydrogen. It would require 16,000 cubic feet of hydrogen to power General Motors' Hy-wire concept car: $804.­science/­earth/­2690341.html How far can you drive on a bushel of corn? Crunching the numbers on alternative fuels. BY MIKE ALLEN
Popular Mechanics, May, 2006 issue.

For this special report, PM crunched the numbers on the actual costs and performance of each major alternative fuel. Before we can debate national energy policy--or even decide which petroleum substitutes might make sense for our personal vehicles--we need to know how these things stack up in the real world.

The Great Alt-Fuel Debate: It takes five barrels of crude oil to produce enough gasoline (nearly 97 gal.) to power a Honda Civic from New York to California. So how do the alternative fuels that may gradually reduce America's dependence on foreign oil stack up against the mileage and convenience of the filling-station stalwart? Download our comparison chart and find out.­documents/­Fuel_of_the_Future-e852.pdf

  • Ethanol/E85
  • Methanol/M85
  • Compressed Natural Gas
  • Biodiesel
  • Electricity The same flow of electrons that powers your television and iPod can provide the energy needed to move a vehicle. Electricity from a power source, typically a rechargeable battery pack, energizes a large electric motor that propels the car. When slowing or stopping, the braking energy reverses the power flow, turning the electric motor into a generator to help recharge the battery pack. Under normal circumstances, however, the batteries must be recharged for several hours at a stationary charging station.
  • Case For: Vehicles that operate only on electricity require no warmup, run almost silently and have excellent performance up to the limit of their range. Also, electric cars are cheap to "refuel." At the average price of 10 cents per kwh, it costs around 2 cents per mile. Electric cars can be recharged at night, when generating plants are under-utilized. Vehicles that run on electricity only part of the time and on internal-combustion power at other times--hybrids--have even greater promise. As hybrids gain in popularity, there is a growing interest in plug-in hybrids that allow owners to fully recharge the vehicle's batteries overnight.

    A strong appeal of the electric car--and of a hybrid when it's running on electricity--is that it produces no tailpipe emissions. Even when emissions created by power plants are factored in, electric vehicles emit less than 10 percent of the pollution of an internal-combustion car.

    Case Against: Pure electric cars still have limited range, typically no more than 100 to 120 miles. In addition, electrics suffer from slow charging, which, in effect, reduces their usability. When connected to a dedicated, high-capacity recharger, some can be recharged in as little as an hour, but otherwise such cars are essentially not driveable while they sit overnight for charging.

    Outlook: Mixed. While interest in plug-in hybrids grows, the long-term future of pure electrics depends on breakthroughs in longer-lasting, cheaper batteries and drastically lower production costs for the vehicles themselves. And then there's the environmental cost. Only 2.3 percent of the nation's electricity comes from renewable resources; about half is generated in coal-burning plants.

  • Hydrogen
  • Conclusion Today, many families have several cars--often more cars than they have drivers. So before we see our national fleet running on hydrogen, we believe that many households might have an electric or plug-in hybrid for short trips, an E85/electric hybrid sedan, SUV or minivan to squire the whole team, and a diesel pickup fueled by B30 or B50 to haul most anything else. All will reduce greenhouse gases and use renewable resources that come from inside our borders. By pursuing these multiple pathways, we can reduce our dependence on any single energy source--something we haven't achieved with petroleum.
  • But don't discount the appeal of gasoline too quickly. David E. Cole, chairman of the Center for Auto Research, says, "If gasoline prices get too high and we look to other fuels--like hydrogen--you can expect that oil-producing nations will reduce our fuel costs. They want to continue to pump oil out, pump dollars in, and they could see the hydrogen economy as a threat."

    Clearly, our energy future is anything but simple. But the proliferation of energy options and surge in research hold promise--even if no single alternative fuel can replace imported oil alone.

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