Tuesday, June 12, 2007

C-T-L fuel, hybrids, and the future?

Carnegie Mellon University Professor Lester Lave and Executive Director Jay Apt have this to say about the relative carbon benefits of plugging in an electric car to a coal-laden electricity grid versus using energy from a coal-laden electricity grid to make petroleum (aka. gasoline) out of more coal:

The House Committee on Energy and Commerce is considering enacting policies to subsidize the production of transportation fuel from coal-to-liquid projects. Tepper School of Business researchers determined plug-in hybrid electric vehicles are a far better and less costly choice.

-- Generating electricity from coal with carbon capture and sequestration and replacing the fleet with plug-in hybrid vehicles could enhance energy security by reducing 85% of motor vehicle gasoline use and reduce greenhouse gas emissions from vehicle travel by 70%.

-- Even the most carbon-intensive scenario using plug-in hybrids has substantially less greenhouse gas emissions than the best possible coal-to-liquids case.

-- Nearly three-fourths of the existing light-duty vehicle fleet could be accommodated as plug-ins without requiring additional power plants through off-peak charging.
At the same time, I see that the number of hybrid vehicles is increasing month-by-month, taking a huge jump up in May, 2007. For a year-to-year and cumulative analysis of the whole thing that is on the Green Car Congress web story, check out the (admittedly nerdy) graphical analysis to the right.

If the trend in 2007 follows the optimistic upward spike seen, then this year will see a huge increase in market share of these vehicles.

What this means in relation with the previous statements about plug-in vehicles vs. gasoline hybrid vehicles I can only imagine. However, I personally feel that it is better (in general) to relegate pollution to as few point sources as possible (i.e., introducing more electric vehicles), since US laws have a greater ability to regulate fixed point sources of pollution (e.g., power plants) as opposed to millions of cars. Does this mean that I don't like hybrids? No, of course not. I think hybrids are a great means of taking advantage of the current energy distribution system that is allocated to the transportation sector (e.g., primarily oil-derived). What would be (in my opinion) a bad thing to do (from the perspective of controlling CO2 levels) would be following the CTL technology pathway in order to cater to the monolithic oil input requirements for transportation as opposed to diversifying the types of energy usable by the sector.

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