Thursday, September 11, 2008

Alternative Energy and Sustainable Living Show

The "Alternative Energy and Sustainable Living Show" was in Washington County last weekend. In the picture above you can see the OSU Solar Trailer.  The trailer is powering the battery electric vehicles surrounding it.

The electric vehicles (EVs) seem attracted to the solar trailer and with good reason; As previous blog entries have mentioned EVs and photovoltaic (PV) are a great combination.  Solar generated electricity is pollution free and a truly sustainable "fuel".  No one has ever fought a war for sunshine. This combo is also a help to the grid since the PV generates power during peak demand times and the EV charges at night when there is surplus grid capacity.  This is referred to as "peak shaving" and "valley filling" in the electric utility biz and these help stabilize the grid.

The silver car on the left is a converted Honda Insight that belongs to my friend Gary.  The Insight is a great car to convert to electric because it is light and aerodynamic.  Originally a hybrid, Gary picked this car up in Canada before converting it to a pure EV. 

The blue pod in the background belongs to my friend Paul.  It is a Myers NmG, previously known as the Corbin Sparrow.  These are fast (75MPH) and fun.  The lithium version has very recently come out and extended the range to a more usable 45 miles.  This is better than the 30 range of the lead acid 2007 model.  As with most current EVs, the range is not enough for roadtrips but sufficient for most people's commutes and daily driving, especially if you can charge at your destination.

My truck was there on display at the show too. With the high price of gasoline, people are increasingly interested in alternatives.  Electric vehicles where just one of the three transportation alternatives there at the show.  The other two were both hydrogen related.  The first was a "hydrogen assist": the installation of a water electrolysis device under the hood. This produces hydrogen and oxygen that is vented in to the air in-take.  These gases then burn with the fuel so it burns hotter and more completely. They were making claims of 25%+ MPG improvement. Assuming this is safe and not damaging to the life of the engine, this solution still does not fundamentally change the need for oil as a primary fuel source. It could, however, work well with bio-fuels, since bio-fuels generally get lower miles per gallon. That is assuming that we can develop a bio-fuel that does not require more energy to produce than it yields, nor divert food crops from the starving, nor cause deforestation. But that is a topic for another time.

The other alternative was a hydrogen combustion car. This vehicle started out as a normal internal combustion car and was then converted so that it could run on compressed natural gas or normal gasoline.  This was the condition that the current owner, Abe, bought it in.  He then made a couple more changes to allow it to also run on hydrogen gas because he has a home hydrogen production plant.  He uses hydrogen for his furnace, water heater, and stove in addition to fueling his car.

If you are willing and capable of producing and managing a highly combustible gas in your home, this sounds like an interesting idea. Although I would not want to be his neighbor if things went wrong. He even has solar panels to generate some of the electricity that he uses to produce the hydrogen. 

Abe was a likable guy. His car was parked near the EV area so we spent some time chatting. The comparison of hydrogen combustion and EVs made for a good discussion.  I'll cover that in tomorrow's blog entry.

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