Saturday, March 25, 2006

Fuel cell, hybrid, plug electric, and flex fuel cars

I drive a gasoline powered automobile and was starting today to investigate alternative fuel sourced automobiles just in case I had to run out and purchase a new vehicle in a hurry.

Fuel cell vehicles from GM and Ford are still experimental and may still be several years from being available in the showroom. These are the vehicles which are powered from water that creates hydrogen which powers the vehicle and the only exhaust is water. I'm not sure whether one would have to buy hydrogen and store it in the vehicle or each vehicle will convert water to hydrogen or what these cars will cost. I know there is no distribution system in place for buying hydrogen. I need to research it some more, but the bottom line is that it will not be available for several years.

Hybrids are available. I think they are gasoline powered with an additional electrical system with batteries that will store the generated electric from the car and also occassionally power the car from the batteries to an electric motor that will move the vehicle along the street or highway. Those with sharp pencils say that hybrid vehicles are not currently cost effective compared to the traditional gasoline powered vehicles at the current price level of gasoline. If the price of gasoline jumps then the hybrid will worth purchasing. When the car is running electrically from the batteries it produces no pollution. Environmentalists like hybrids because they produce less pollution than traditional gasoline vehicles. I understand there are waiting lists for people to buy hybrid vehicles at this time.

Plug electric vehicles are being trialed by the United States Post Office. They are one ton vehicles that have to be plugged into a socket to recharge the batteries. They say that since most of our electricity comes from coal, it will help decrease our dependance on foriegn oil. I could find no mention of price or availablity to the public for this kind of vehicle. I like the concept of the plug electric vehicle and it seems logical that we could buy a home adapter to charge the batteries daily. I don't think there would be any pollution except for the coal burning in the utility plant to generate the electricity. I wonder how much extra my electric bill would be to charge a car and whether my utility company has the capacity to charge tens of thousands of plug electric vehicles.

Some of us are already driving flex fuel vehicles which can run on 100% gasoline or a blend of 15% gasoline and 85% ethanol also known as e85. During the 1970's during the Carter presidential administration e85 was pretty widely available but now it is limitted to mainly the corn belt states. Since the bulk of the ethanol is produced in the corn belt from corn it is also pretty much consumed there also without much if any available to be shipped to other states. In my area, there is no e85 available today in New Jersey, New York, or Pennsylvania and I could not find any information about when it may be available. E85 is the miracle drug that took Brazil off of the foreign importation of oil and made them a net exporter of ethanol (the 85% ingredient of e85). The vehicles burning e85 pollute less than vehicles that use 100% gas or deisel because the ethanol does not pollute.

I think that the people in the corn belt that have flex fuel vehicles are lucky and the rest of us in America are not lucky. It seems to be a secret if it would be wise for the rest of us to buy a flex fuel vehicles now because there is no information available to indicate whether or not there will be a sufficient supply of e85 for us quickly.

I think the plug electric vehicles would be the best choice for America if our electric utilities can produce clean electric and have the capacity available. Who knows how long it would take the auto manufacturers to make these plug electric vehicles commercially available, though.

The fuel cell vehicle may be the ultimate choice but it is years away from being available in the dealers. And if they are priced fairly then the waiting time to receive one may be several years.

All in all, I have to say everything is clear as mud. There is no direction from our local, state, or federal representatives on where we are going and how soon we will get there. Am I going to see e85 available widely within the next two years in New Jersey and other states where I travel most frequently such as New York and Pennsylvania so that maybe a flex fuel vehicle would be a good choice for me? If we are going to rely on the fuel cell technology for powereing cars, then does it need an infrastructure to be built to produce and distribute the hydrogen fuel? Give me a break, some choices have to be made especially for building infrastructures which can take as much as a decade to design, develop, and implement.

Maybe we need to outsource some of our representatives and bring in some Brazilians who seem to have made the right decisions and implemented them quite quickly.

What do you think? Have you contacted your elected representatives? Should this be a issue for national discussion?