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November 9, 2008

Electric Car
Posted by Jim Macdonald at 02:29 PM * 94 comments

New Hampshire’s own Dean Kamen (inventor of the Segway, among many other things), has an electric car in prototype and tooling around downtown Manchester.

The same day that Ford and General Motors announced catastrophic third-quarter losses, Dean Kamen was showing off his new electric car.

The prototype vehicle, a zippy two-seat hatchback designed with more than a passing resemblance to the Volkswagen Beetle, can go about 60 miles on a single charge of its lithium battery and with practically zero emissions.

The vehicle is an electric/Stirling Engine hybrid.

It’s already on the road, he’s got investors interested, and it looks like it’ll be commercially available in around two years.

Another passion is using his inventions — a water purifier and his Stirling engine — toward the betterment of some of the planet’s poorest people. Kamen calls it “a moral imperative that the poorest people of the world can at least access a little bit of clean water and power.”

It’s also in America’s self-interest to help them do so, Kamen insists.

“To me it’s pretty obvious … that becoming a source of knowledge and health and wealth in the world is in our economic best-interest, it’s in our security best interest, it’s in our moral and ethical best interest. There’s no downside in creating a world where all people can be happy.”

And the alternative is not acceptable, he said: “We don’t help four billion people out of abject poverty and disease, we don’t make them customers, we don’t make them suppliers … And they become desperate and angry, and people with nothing to lose and reason to hate — and there’s four billion of them.”

Back to that electric car? It’s all part of Kamen’s master plan.

“The car is a step along the way to be able to build, in high volume, high-quality, low-cost electric generation for a couple billion people,” he explained.

“If we can demonstrate the utility of the Stirling engine by putting it in a car … it will leave me with an engine that I can use to supply electricity to the world.”

Comments on Electric Car:
#1 ::: Adam Lipkin ::: (view all by) ::: November 09, 2008, 02:48 PM:

I bet Gob Bluth is already lining up for his.

#2 ::: Tlönista ::: (view all by) ::: November 09, 2008, 02:55 PM:

Hahaha! My first thought was that it won't get very far if it's as deeply dorky as the Segway was.

#3 ::: Ralph Giles ::: (view all by) ::: November 09, 2008, 03:34 PM:

So...two weeks ago it was an electric car, with a Stirling engine in the trunk...that wasn't hooked up to anything.

Now, it's hooked up to the heater. An external combustion engine used for heating.

Stirling engines are neat, but I think the advantages are in running on 'anything that burns' rather than 'magically more efficient'.

I think the water purifier is a lot more interesting than the car, which appears to electric car.

#4 ::: Caroline ::: (view all by) ::: November 09, 2008, 03:37 PM:

My boyfriend is holding out for the plug-in hybrid Toyotas (like these, only not aftermarket). He could easily commute to work and back on a single charge, and the hybrid engine is still there as backup if he needs to go farther.

I'm hoping we'll move somewhere where we don't need personal cars (I'd love to be able to just switch to Zipcar, and do walk/bike/transit for commuting) but if not, we'll be saving up for one of those.

#5 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: November 09, 2008, 04:01 PM:

Electric car? I want an Aptera

#6 ::: Joel Polowin ::: (view all by) ::: November 09, 2008, 04:18 PM:

I'm curious about how the Aptera is intended to relate to the Volkswagon diptera.

(The Aptera website says that 'Aptera is Greek for "wingless flight".' AFAIK, it just means "wingless".)

#7 ::: don delny ::: (view all by) ::: November 09, 2008, 04:27 PM:

Caroline, 4,

Pluggable hybrids are neat! The only, admittedly, very minor wrinkle, is that you do have to start the gasoline engine periodically, otherwise the fuel starts to break down/separate a bit and make valves stick.

#8 ::: Graydon ::: (view all by) ::: November 09, 2008, 04:33 PM:

Stirling engines are terrifically interesting for two reasons.

One is that they're using a particularly efficient thermal cycle, in an elegant way. (Run a Stirling engine from an external power source and it functions as a refrigerator...) So you're ahead of an internal combustion engine on inherent efficiency, which means tons of carbon per kWh. Throw in that cost scales with parts count, and that the parts count is low; that the cycle is closed so the operation is inherently quiet; and that the combustion is external so you can run it on anything and burn cleanly, and it's in most respects a preferable technology to what we've got. It's that founder effect thing again, where we've got what worked first, rather than what works best.

Two is that the necessary temperature differential is low; 300 C is enough, and that means you can get efficient solar-thermal conversion using a Stirling engine. Just getting the things into serious mass production would be a big help for those trying to get solar dish thermal -- with demonstrated 35% efficiency known -- into more widespread use. The higher the temperature differential the better the thermal efficiency; 40% has been demonstrated, which is already better than you are going to do with automotive internal combustion engines ever.

Stirling engines are a real road-not-taken technology, rather like turbocompounds. Even pure Stirling-Electric with no battery-off-the-grid would be a huge win compared to what we have now, just on pollution and cost grounds.
Get them running on methane-from-sewage or methane-from-atmospheric-CO2 and it's a much bigger win.

From a car design standpoint, Stirling-electric means no muffler, no catalytic converter, no exhaust manifold, and no transmission; you can get rid of most of the suspension system and the friction brakes if you go with the two-electric-motors-per-wheel designs, where one is drive and one is an active suspension. All of that saves weight and space which in turn saves fuel.

You do need batteries to support the regenerative braking, and that adds mass back, but the potential net win is enormous.

#9 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: November 09, 2008, 04:57 PM:

My gripe about plug-in hybrids is that they seem to be aimed at people who live in houses (or townhouses) with garages (or with carports) with outlets available for the voltage/amperage required. If you don't have one (think of apartments and condos), plug-in hybrids are not very useful.

#10 ::: Mary Frances ::: (view all by) ::: November 09, 2008, 05:00 PM:

Tlonista @2: Oh, hey! Segways are wonderful! Just ask any disabled person who is capable of standing upright but not capable of walking far or fast . . .

Not that that has anything to do with the possible dorkiness of the new electric car, of course!

#11 ::: David Harmon ::: (view all by) ::: November 09, 2008, 05:00 PM:

IIRC, the big reason the Segway didn't get anywhere was less because of it's "dorkyness" than because of regulatory and econiche issues -- it was a motorized vehicle that couldn't quite merge with auto traffic, but was a bit too fast for the sidewalk, and legally it was "neither fish nor fowl".

But yeah, this is a cool new development. And nice timing on the announcement....

#12 ::: Linkmeister ::: (view all by) ::: November 09, 2008, 05:14 PM:

What I want to know about electric cars:

why are we never told how much this additional electrical usage might add to our regular household electric bill? Surely it's measurable in kilowatt hours, so is it so large that the electric car manufacturers would rather we not know? Is it buried in the "average cost savings" number used when comparing these cars to regular gasoline-powered ones?

Our current electric usage is about 1200kwh per month, about $360 (Hawai'i gets nearly all its electricity from burning imported oil). How much would recharging an electric car cause that to rise?

#13 ::: Magenta Griffith ::: (view all by) ::: November 09, 2008, 05:27 PM:

Lee @5: Now *that* is a really sci-fi car. Finally.

#14 ::: David Harmon ::: (view all by) ::: November 09, 2008, 05:32 PM:

Graydon: Stick to methane (etc.) from sewage -- methane from CO2 costs lots of energy, and if you're just going to be burning it anyway, you're not gaining anything on the global-warming front.

P.J. Evans: Yeah, but the outlet is a pretty easy add-on to a gas station -- especially as those already need electricity for the pumps and lights.

#15 ::: Tlönista ::: (view all by) ::: November 09, 2008, 05:35 PM:

Mary Frances @10: My apologies, I hadn't even thought of that application! Like Adam @1, Segways immediately remind me of...Gob.

Graydon @8: So whatever happened? I'm surprised the technology is so obscure...

#16 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: November 09, 2008, 05:40 PM:

Gas stations are fewer and farther between here. They get torn down and come back as quick-lube places, if they come back at all. What you might want is quick-recharge places, with some kind of shuttle service .... On second thought, forget that, you might as well just take a bus.

#17 ::: Mary Frances ::: (view all by) ::: November 09, 2008, 05:42 PM:

Tlönista @ 15: Oh, my. That picture made me laugh out loud, and I really needed a laugh--thank you!

#18 ::: Graydon ::: (view all by) ::: November 09, 2008, 06:08 PM:

Tlönista @ 15 --

The problem was that Stirling engines are closed cycle with a gaseous working fluid. This means that your machining has to be seriously precise, or you lose working fluid. There were also issues with getting them to scale in output as quickly as Otto Cycle or Diesel engines, and no one at the time (1860s!) particularly cared about fuel efficiency, so Stirling engines lost out.

Modern materials and machining can more or less put on tackety boots and hop up and down on the retain working fluid issues, and so far as I know on the scaling issues as well.

David Harmon @14 --

Methane from atmospheric CO2 is a great way to store windmill and solar farm output in a shippable form, though, and there's been some recent catalytic-path results that suggest it could be economic to create it. And it's going to be carbon neutral that way, which the sewage won't be, so long as fossil source fertilizers are still being used. (Not that treating sewage as a resource isn't a worthy end in and of itself.)

Linkmeister @12 --

Check out this pdf for a cost breakdown.

The really short form is that gasoline has about 8 kWh per litre but you can't get all of them out.

You're apparently paying 30 cents per kWh (yikes!, says the Ontarian); that means you're ahead if gas costs more than 2.40 per litre if you have a perfect car. Since you don't have a perfect car, you are probably ahead if gas is more than a buck a litre.

#19 ::: Holly P. ::: (view all by) ::: November 09, 2008, 06:27 PM:

Personally, I think electric-car manufacturers should focus their efforts on northern cities -- the infrastructure is already there. I live in Edmonton, where people have to plug in regular cars during the winter so they'll have a prayer of starting. One of the joys of -40 C. (Another one is that your breath will freeze on your eyelashes; unfortunately, it took a fairly messy mascara incident for me to figure that out. But I digress.) Most condos and apartment buildings, and even some parking garages, provide outlets, and most homeowners have some kind of outlet available even if they don't have an actual garage.

Of course, they'd need to make sure the batteries work properly at -40 C, which may be a nontrivial problem -- IANA materials engineer.

#20 ::: David Harmon ::: (view all by) ::: November 09, 2008, 07:01 PM:

Graydon @#18: Good points, but do you actually need to fertilize sewage to get methane out?

Personally, I'm still hopeful for the new steam-reduction ("anything-to-oil") processes. With any luck, our new administration will put some development bucks into that, along with cellulose-to-ethanol. (But food-to-fuel must die!)

#21 ::: Dave Bell ::: (view all by) ::: November 09, 2008, 07:02 PM:

Connector design is probably a solved engineering problem, for the reasons Holly gives.

Whether the voltage/current used for an engine (and fuel) heater is appropriate for recharging, I don't know. Make the vehicle side of the system smart enough to cope with different voltages and frequencies.

And then make sure that the NA market uses the standard. It'll probably come down to government fiat (or Volvo or Chrysler), and it needs to be a NAFTA thing.

#22 ::: David Harmon ::: (view all by) ::: November 09, 2008, 07:02 PM:

( </b>ah! ;-) )

#23 ::: Dave Bell ::: (view all by) ::: November 09, 2008, 07:05 PM:

David Harmon, sewage is a by-product of food production and consumption.

That's where the fertiliser gets used.

#24 ::: Linkmeister ::: (view all by) ::: November 09, 2008, 07:51 PM:

Graydon @ #18, now that's informative. Thank you.

#25 ::: Joel Polowin ::: (view all by) ::: November 09, 2008, 08:24 PM:

Me @ 6: I'm curious about how the Aptera is intended to relate to the Volkswagon diptera.

Arrghh. Coleoptera. Brain not in gear.

#26 ::: Lizzy L ::: (view all by) ::: November 09, 2008, 09:09 PM:

The security cops at my local enclosed mall use Segways to get around the mall. Fast, quiet, easy to use, very practical.

#27 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: November 09, 2008, 09:27 PM:

Holly, I thought those were for engine block heaters. That's what I've been told by people who have been in those areas.

#28 ::: Leroy F. Berven ::: (view all by) ::: November 09, 2008, 10:14 PM:

PJ Evans @ 27: The block heater (a/k/a "headbolt heater"), used properly, is what gives that vehicle a prayer of starting.

#29 ::: cajunfj40 ::: (view all by) ::: November 09, 2008, 10:31 PM:

P J Evans @ #27:
"Holly (@#19), I thought those were for engine block heaters. That's what I've been told by people who have been in those areas."

We've got some sockets around here in Minneapolis for similar reasons - yes, they are for block heaters and that's what Holly P was referring to. If your oil is at -40 C, it is a solid and thus your engine is unlikely to want to turn over at all, even with a stout battery.

Unfortunately, most block heaters run around 1200 watts or so, basically a 10A 120V circuit per car. 1.2kw of charging power is where one gets the "takes all night to charge" criticism of electric vehicles. It's enough to keep the batteries warm and give you the cushion to run the heater on the way home (from charging at work) in an electric vehicle operated in winter, at least.

A standard 15A or 20A 120V circuit, dedicated to charging the electric car, is sufficient for a commuter vehicle. An all night charge cycle is fine for that service. For a more multi-purpose car, go for a 220V 20-40A circuit or better - this allows charging after work and before heading out to the movies/dinner/etc.

"Plug in" hybrids are nice, but most of the ones I see on the drawing board (or available aftermarket like the Prius conversions) have way too much engine. You're better off going pure electric for 95% of your driving needs and renting an efficient fuel car the few times you need to drive cross-country. Or put the generator on a trailer.

IMHO, of course - never built one/owned one myself. Nothing on the market beats the running/ownership costs of a 3 year old compact car, much less a paid-off 9 year old compact car.

#30 ::: Marilee ::: (view all by) ::: November 10, 2008, 12:00 AM:

Mary Frances, #10, and doesn't have balance problems. ;)

While I'm all for less pollution, I can't use any of these electric/small cars yet. I can't stand up from as low as they are, and I wouldn't be able to get things in and out of the back without falling in. I'm going to need something like a minivan (or some of the crossovers) as long as I live.

#31 ::: Bruce Cohen (SpeakerToManagers) ::: (view all by) ::: November 10, 2008, 02:01 AM:

Running engines on methane is all very fine, but I think we need to be very careful before we start creating additional methane (other than what cows and pigs and so on already create) in megaton quantities. Methane is something like 26 x as effective a greenhouse gas as CO2, and I can't imagine a large-scale methane creation, storage, and distribution system that won't leak some into the atmosphere. The challenge is to be sure that the leakage causes less total greenhouse effect than the CO2 you're not generating. Not a simple calculation; it depends on a lot of factors we won't know accurately until we can test the technologies in the real world.

As for Segway; I can't stand up for more than 15 minutes or so without a good deal of pain, but I still want one. In 15 minutes I could go 3 niles at top speed on a Segway, and I can't walk farther than a mile, and even then I have to sit down for at least half an hour or so. Besides which, I think they're cool, and a lot of other people around here must think so too: there's a Segway tour of Portland you can take that was doing good business last I heard.

#32 ::: chris y ::: (view all by) ::: November 10, 2008, 04:37 AM:

Segways have all sorts of niche applications. Several Parks Departments around the world use them for routine tidying purposes, and I noticed that in Lisbon, where a lot of the historic centre is pedestrian only, the police use them for non-emergency patrolling.

Also, Presidents can use them to fall off.

#33 ::: OG ::: (view all by) ::: November 10, 2008, 06:52 AM:

#31 Bruce:

We're already producing methane from sewage treatment and landfills, a lot of which is immediately burned off. I'd love to see the new administration providing grants and/or loans to add processing and storage facilities. A feasible methane-powered car could be enough of a push to get it started.

#34 ::: David Harmon ::: (view all by) ::: November 10, 2008, 08:28 AM:

Dave Bell @#23: That's my point (and OG@#33's). The fertilizer used for food et al is a sunk "cost" -- any benefit you can get out of sewage is a bonus.

#35 ::: Graydon ::: (view all by) ::: November 10, 2008, 09:58 AM:

David --

Fossil carbon fertilizer is not a sunk cost; it's spending from capital.

All initial resource extraction is spending from a fixed capital stock. It would help a lot of it was thought of that way.

In the specific, the advanced economies need to go significantly carbon negative; it's going to take the developing ones at least a generation to get tooled up enough to go carbon negative themselves, and in the mean time the water's rising. Any core process -- and there's nothing more core than the food supply -- that relies on fossil carbon needs fixing.

Bruce @31 --

Once you have shit, you have methane. We wouldn't get inherently more, we'd just burn it rather than the present case slow vent to atmosphere. The advantage to burning it is that the CO2 isn't as bad a greenhouse gas, for one, and for two, you're actually processing the stuff rather than using the current "big toxic piles" approach. There are economic advantages around transportation distances and costs and things, too. Plus you have some prospect of making farms closer to energy independent, which is immensely important for moving off a fossil carbon energy system.

#36 ::: don delny ::: (view all by) ::: November 10, 2008, 09:59 AM:

Marilee, #30

Mary Frances, #10, and doesn't have balance problems. ;)

I thought the "auto-balancing" computer that makes a Segway stand up was part of the advantage for people with balance problems.

#37 ::: cajunfj40 ::: (view all by) ::: November 10, 2008, 01:04 PM:

OG @#33:
A feasible methane-powered car could be enough of a push to get it started.

OG, methane is the primary component of Natural Gas. Any gasoline powered car can be converted to CNG (Compressed Natural Gas) usage quite easily, and there are companies that make a business out of it. You can buy brand new CNG pickups, buses, taxis, etc. from the US automakers already, and have been able to do so for at least a decade. For cars, check out the Honda Civic GX for a currently available example. This is a solved problem, other than the availability of the fuel. Right now in Minneapolis, there are fewer public dispensing stations (fleets generally have their own refueling infrastructure) than there are for E85. True, most homes have natural gas piped in for heat but you'd need a compressor and other equipment to be able to "fuel at home".

The bonus? At an octane equivalence of over 105, you can raise the compression ratio of the engine being converted to CNG and get all the power back, plus either more power or close the "volume of fuel per mile" gap. CNG being less dense than gasoline, you go fewer miles on a given quantity.

#38 ::: Bruce Cohen (SpeakerToManagers) ::: (view all by) ::: November 10, 2008, 01:49 PM:

Right, I'm not concerned about methane from sewage; as David Harmon says, that's a sunk cost. But methane from CO2 isn't, it's a new source, and any loss to the atmosphere needs to be compensated for by the removal of 26 times its mass of CO2.

#39 ::: Graydon ::: (view all by) ::: November 10, 2008, 02:26 PM:

Bruce @38 --

I'm not following you.

Methane from sewage is not a sunk cost; because the sewage comes from food which is ultimately grown with fossil-carbon fertilizers, and on short (thousand year) time frames, this is running as an open cycle. It's an increasing source of methane, and it will go right on increasing as people the world over get more affluent and eat better. This is a lot of why the atmosphere has a whole lot more methane in it now than formerly.

Methane synthesized from atmospheric CO2 is a way to store energy; assuming the catalytic processes being investigated work, you run your windmill or your solar farm to produce methane, which you then store and use as a fuel, which releases CO2 back into the atmosphere but since that's where that carbon came from in the first place, it's net neutral.

If you replace "windmill" with "manure pile", you're actually well ahead because the methane's carbon content mostly goes into the atmosphere as CO2, which is a net win. (That tech is starting to get rolled out, because with current prices for gas and diesel, the capital investment versus the fuel savings makes sense for farmers.)

Keep in mind that manure disposal is a serious and difficult problem for large scale farming.

#40 ::: Hank Roberts ::: (view all by) ::: November 10, 2008, 02:30 PM:

Dean Kamen is quoted in the article saying"

"... Most big companies seem to misconstrue Darwin's ideas about which species survive ....

"I think what Darwin really was saying was: It's not the fittest, not the smartest, not the strongest; it's the ones that can adapt to change ..."

Actually, it's the number of grandchildren that survive. And companies don't _have_ grandchildren. That's one big problem of the "immortal corporation" idea, isn't it?

#41 ::: Joel Polowin ::: (view all by) ::: November 10, 2008, 03:01 PM:

Graydon @ 39: I think that Bruce's point is that if atmospheric CO2 is converted to methane, and some of that methane escapes to the atmosphere instead of being burned back to CO2, there's a net increase in greenhouse activity.

#42 ::: Raphael ::: (view all by) ::: November 10, 2008, 03:10 PM:

Graydon @39: Methane synthesized from atmospheric CO2 is a way to store energy; assuming the catalytic processes being investigated work, you run your windmill or your solar farm to produce methane, which you then store and use as a fuel, which releases CO2 back into the atmosphere but since that's where that carbon came from in the first place, it's net neutral.

No, it's not net neutral, because there's no way you can do something like that without having a at least some of the methane leak back into the atmosphere before it gets burned. That would still be technically "carbon neutral" in the literal meaning of the word, but it wouldn't be damage-neutral, because the same amount of carbon bound in methane does a lot more damage than that amount of carbon bound in CO2.

So, every day that things would be done the way you suggest, because of inavoidable leakage, a certain amount of atmospheric CO2 would effectively be turned into atmospheric methane. Wich would be a Bad Thing.

#43 ::: David Harmon ::: (view all by) ::: November 10, 2008, 03:24 PM:

Gradon: Fossil carbon fertilizer is not a sunk cost; it's spending from capital.

That's only true at the point where it's being used to grow food! I think we agree that methane reclamation does not itself use fertilizer. So, with respect to methane reclamation from waste, the fertilizer is a sunk cost on both the cash and the carbon budgets.

Of course, producing fertilizer from the sewage, would reduce the need for oil-based fertilizer. But even there, unless methane reclamation actually interferes with fertilizer production, you don't get to charge the latter against the former.

Worse... well, I suspect we all know the hazards of feeding human sewage back into the human food cycle! AFAIK, nothing can remove all of those hazards, without converting the material to inorganic form. (Even bacteria can be scarily tough, let alone viruses and the occasional prions.) Steam reduction, incineration, and similar processes can do that conversion... in which you get minerals and/or energy, but not fertilizer.

#44 ::: OG ::: (view all by) ::: November 10, 2008, 05:21 PM:

#37 cajunfj40:

OG, methane is the primary component of Natural Gas. Any gasoline powered car can be converted to CNG (Compressed Natural Gas) usage quite easily, and there are companies that make a business out of it. ... This is a solved problem, other than the availability of the fuel.

I'm aware of that. The lack of availability is what keeps it from being an option for many people. As the backup system for an electric car, though, that becomes much less of a problem.

There are a number of small towns and low-population counties whose landfills and treatment plants don't produce enough methane to justify building the facilities for storing and compressing it. They just burn it off. I can see the municipalities and counties I work with jumping all over switching out their public utilities vehicles to electric-plus-methane with refueling at the treatment plant, assuming they have help with the start-up costs and the economics of the vehicle cost + maintenance work out.

It's definitely something to keep an eye on.

#45 ::: Earl Cooley III ::: (view all by) ::: November 10, 2008, 06:05 PM:

Hank Roberts #40: Actually, it's the number of grandchildren that survive. And companies don't _have_ grandchildren. That's one big problem of the "immortal corporation" idea, isn't it?

Sure they do; shell companies multiple generations deep created to manipulate political policy or hide assets from taxation are examples of corporospawn that help ensure the survival of the immortal corporation.

#46 ::: don delny ::: (view all by) ::: November 10, 2008, 06:05 PM:

Graydon, #39
Methane from sewage is not a sunk cost; because the sewage comes from food which is ultimately grown with fossil-carbon fertilizers, and on short (thousand year) time frames, this is running as an open cycle.

I'm not sure I'm following you here. Are you suggesting that we don't eat?
Hmm. That was unnecessarily snarky. I didn't mean it that way. What I meant was, given our current agricultural system, we spend that carbon anyway, so that's a separate problem to solve, one that will not be solved by eliminating the source of the methane-producing sewage ;)

#47 ::: TomB ::: (view all by) ::: November 10, 2008, 08:35 PM:

Shockley begat Fairchild which begat Intel and AMD and many others.

#48 ::: Graydon ::: (view all by) ::: November 10, 2008, 08:47 PM:

Raphael @32 --

Leakage being a net problem assumes that the amount of leakage is large compared to the amount of storage. I am not going to attempt the equilibrium differential equation, but with any significant storage -- months, rather than days -- it should be well ahead as an equilibrium condition.

Methane-is-a-worse-greenhouse-gas surely is is a reason to be focused on doing as much methane recovery from inevitable rotting as can be arranged, rather than the currently nigh-universal atmospheric venting.

The other alternative is to make longer chain hydrocarbons, but that's more expensive as a process and they're worse fuel.

David @43 --

Actually, you might want to google "snowfluent"; apparently a combination of explosive decompression and freezing will get enough of the organic hazards that the results are usable, in an "add nitrates" sort of way. The heavy metal contamination is a separate problem.

Don @46 --

Sure we eat. But if we eat in a way that gives us an open-loop carbon cycle as a civilization, fixing the power system is, as you note, a stopgap, not a solution.

Using sewage for methane for power is a good idea because, given sewage, there will be methane, and it's better to burn it than vent it. It's not actually a fix for the atmospheric carbon balance; that takes either condensing CO2 and sequestering it or doing net-neutral carbon-loop tech if we're going to keep burning stuff, which it rather looks like we are.

Though I could be surprised about battery technology; serious research into energy density without the constraint of "small" is only really just getting started.

#49 ::: Marilee ::: (view all by) ::: November 10, 2008, 11:12 PM:

don delny, #36, no, you change direction and speed by shifting your weight on purpose. I shift my weight accidentally.

#50 ::: Mary Frances ::: (view all by) ::: November 11, 2008, 01:23 AM:

Marilee @42 and 49: Actually, I've been sort of thinking about the sort of disabled people who might use Segways (not that it's really relevant to this thread, or to anything you've said about balance, but anyway), and I realized that most of the people I've seen using Segways for such purposes have been fairly young, pre-teen to late adolescence. I remember in particular one young man with full leg braces tooling nonchalantly around the Chicago Botanic Gardens on a Segway--he was about twelve or thirteen, I think, and obviously felt very comfortable on the thing. (More comfortable than I would have, I suspect, though I'm with Bruce Cohen @31 on that: I think Segways are cool.) I wonder if maybe Segways might be a therapeutic form of locomotion for some conditions, particularly in young people?

I also seem to remember, vaguely, a company in downtown Chicago proposing to rent Segways to people who wanted to use them to tour the lakefront--maybe one of these days I'll check to see if anything ever came of that . . .

#51 ::: David Harmon ::: (view all by) ::: November 11, 2008, 10:15 AM:

Graydon: "snowfluent" apparently ... will get enough of the organic hazards that the results are usable

The "snowfluent" technique does look like a fairly good way to extract the water from the sewage, (which is a worthwhile task in itself).

BUT! A casual glance through some of the search results, suggests that they're using fecal coliform as a proxy for microbiological activity, and that doesn't cover all the real-world bases. Fecal coliform (FC) is properly used as a marker for sewage contamination-- that is, if you see it in a water supply, that supply has probably been contaminated by sewage. But FC isn't the actual problem, it's just an easy-to-detect component of live sewage!

What we really need to worry about, are all the other, more dangerous (disease-causing) organisms. Some of those have very tough spore forms, others are viruses, which can easily survive freeze/thaw cycles. (Prions, of course, have been known to survive incineration of infected corpses! Thankfully, it seems intrinsic to the type, that they can't multiply outside suitable hosts.)

I'd be worried about trace remnants of those spores and viruses in the ice/water output, but we might have to be satisfied with knocking them down to "background levels". If a human-infectious strain can (also) recover and multiply in soil, "snowfluent" has a faint risk of creating a reservoir for infection where there wasn't one before -- but at some point, it does come down to "if they can survive that, they're just endemic". ;-)

It's the remaining solid waste that's the tricky part. Using that for fertilizer is exactly where I'd be worried about sending (populations of) disease organisms back into the food cycle. And even if bacteria get broken up by the freezing, there's a risk of loose virulence genes being scavenged by other, formerly-harmless bacteria!

As you note, heavy metals (and halo-organics) are an entirely separate problem, and I'm not sure what could be done there. Bio-engineered scavengers come to mind, but sewage treatment isn't necessarily the proper (or only) place for those.

#52 ::: Rosa ::: (view all by) ::: November 11, 2008, 11:15 AM:

I thought the process they use to make milorganite was pretty safe - though I don't know about it's carbon impact. It's a bio-treatment comined with heated drying at the end, I think.

I wonder if a two-plant method - one cooking up the waste for methane, a second aerating it for quick and thorough decomposition - would work?

#53 ::: Graydon ::: (view all by) ::: November 11, 2008, 11:53 AM:

David Harmon @51 --

Some biological pathogens are indeed incredibly tough; building vast nuclear powered plasma furnaces for sewage treatment isn't likely to be a net win, though.

What I recall for the snowfluent results is that the communities near Westport, where they tried it -- particularly Sharbot Lake -- have been very worried about it leaking, since the motivation for Westport to go to a new/novel system was to stop killing the lake with phosphates, and their neighbors worried about the dead-lake effect spreading and any release of pathogens. So far, neither the 3rd party who does the regular testing nor the good people of Sharbot Lake's spot testing has found anything.

It's only been ten years, and doing it in a warm climate would involve building vast refrigerated buildings, which would hit the cost advantages, but it really does look like it works. (The inventor was very conscious of the pathogen problem, and apparently the nozzle design would have been a lot simpler if he hadn't been determined to maximize the pressure gradient.)

Heavy metals, well, I figure the right place to worry about heavy metals in sewage is on the input side, but there are almost certainly ways to filter them that are simpler/cheaper than centrifuges, especially if you can get a relatively dry and relatively thin sludge.

#54 ::: joann ::: (view all by) ::: November 11, 2008, 12:39 PM:

Mary Frances #50:

I've seen Segway tours offered in at least two cities. In Albuquerque, I walked past a place that claimed to sell such a thing, but they didn't look open. (Not that I had the money or, in fact, the time--I'd just finished walking all over what they presumably wanted me to tour.) In Austin, I've seen actual herds of Segway tourists. This is rather frightening, because the interface between Segways and pedestrians is at least as dicey as the one between bicyclists and pedestrians (or cars), and is not improved by the fact that although everyone knows how to ride a bicycle, I don't think that's quite true of Segways yet.

#55 ::: David Dyer-Bennet ::: (view all by) ::: November 11, 2008, 01:16 PM:

Plugging your car in overnight (often a timer was used so you weren't actually heating the engine all night) used to be much more common in Minnesota than it is now, I think. Partly I moved into the big city, where it's warmer, and partly I think it's gotten warmer in general, but largely it's that the cars have gotten a lot better. I don't remember when I last had my car fail to start due to cold, and I haven't had a block heater in my last three cars (I believe I last owned a car with a block heater in around 1980).

But those were set up to run on 15amp circuits. They were often powered by extension cords, sometimes running across the sidewalk to reach street parking (yes, this is a bit of a hazard). They couldn't charge big batteries very fast.

Most garages aren't wired for 220; getting 220 out to them would be expensive (I'd expect bids of a couple of thousand dollars, very roughly). And 220 extension cords aren't very common, either.

Even with higher-capacity connections, charging time can't be reduce to anything vaguely like a gas-station stop. The only way to get "quick" refueling would be to swap battery modules -- which requires standardization, in a rapidly-changing brand-new industry. (If the modules were designed for swapping, they could have integral switches to avoid the issues of working with hot connections.)

I've had the thought of a pure-electric car with the option of a trailer to sometimes take an engine-powered generator with me (as suggested @29). I'm suspecting it's not a big commercial winner, but who knows?

Another issue in northern climates -- heating. Right now our cars are heated with engine waste heat. To be acceptable, even safe, they have to be heated *somehow*. Electrical resistive heating uses up power pretty quickly (even though it's 100% efficient). I suppose you could have an all-electric car with a small Coleman stove for heating, or a catalytic heater using some liquid fuel (some Saab's had that decades ago; it gets heat coming into the passenger compartment much quicker at low temperatures).

#56 ::: Graydon ::: (view all by) ::: November 11, 2008, 02:24 PM:

DD-B @55

Remember that charge time is mostly a function of the battery tech, rather than the power cord; rapid charging with monster amperage is a function of how very much the battery doesn't want to work that way. The folks pushing Lithium Titanate batteries claim to have more or less beat the charge time problem.

A 220 V battery charging circuit isn't any worse than a stove or a dryer; having a dryer plug put in cost me less than 200 CAD a couple-three years ago. That was right next to the circuit breaker box, but even 4 gauge solid copper armored cable isn't that expensive.

If you really need 3 phase AC at 550V for battery charging, we're going to have rewire the supply, so I don't think that's going to happen before someone gets a battery tech work around going.

Heaters are necessary only until the car gets up to temperature if the car is well insulated; you could do that with a reversible catalytic heat pack -- sodium acetate gets used for this under the "Toasterz" brand -- and reset them when the car is plugged in for charging.

Though that does imply better venting and airflow management than is presently usual, and being well insulated means air conditioning gets more important, too. I suspect someone is going to have to do a general heat management redesign.

#57 ::: VictorS ::: (view all by) ::: November 11, 2008, 03:22 PM:

Mary Frances @50: This June, we were in Chicago and saw lakefront tours-by-Segway as well as park police using them. Clearly, the idea went somewhere.

Also: Last week, in San Francisco, I noticed a Segway tour group descending Lombard Street, looking rather nervous. I'm not sure that application is going to catch on.

#58 ::: Bruce Cohen (SpeakerToManagers) ::: (view all by) ::: November 11, 2008, 04:16 PM:

VictorS @ 57

a Segway tour group descending Lombard Street

Wheeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee splat!

#59 ::: David Dyer-Bennet ::: (view all by) ::: November 11, 2008, 04:25 PM:

Graydon@56: Sure, a 220 outlet is cheap and easy if it's near the box. I've wired several myself over the years. I said getting one installed in the garage would be expensive. That requires new wiring from the house to the garage.

As to amount and time, I hadn't run the numbers. So...if an electric car ran 50 miles on a full charge (a goal they're currently striving for) and was somehow comparable in energy use to a car that used 7 liters of gas for that (questionable, I suspect early electric cars of the coming generation will make nearly all their tradeoffs towards efficiency), and you said gas has 8kwh/liter, and guessing the car uses it at 50% efficiency (vaguely right I think) and the electric car uses it at 100% efficiency (pretty badly optimistic for any battery charging tech I know of, or electric motors), then the time to fully charge is ( 7l * 8 kwh/l * .5 ) / ( 110v * 15a ) which I can't quite make Google Calculator do directly, but appears to be 17 hours to charge at full capacity on a 15 amp 110 volt circuit.

Also, of course, if everybody in the neighborhood did it (for all three of their cars), they'd have to replace most of the utility wiring throughout the city.

#60 ::: Mary Frances ::: (view all by) ::: November 11, 2008, 05:46 PM:

VictorS@57: Lombard Street on a Segway?? But--oh, I see Bruce Cohen already beat me to it. That must have been quite a sight--I'd be nervous, too. Not only if I were riding one, but if I were walking anywhere in the immediate vicinity (per Joann @54).

At least Chicago is flat. And has lots of nice, open space (usually shared by bicyclists and pedestrians) on the Lakefront . . .

#61 ::: Marilee ::: (view all by) ::: November 11, 2008, 11:03 PM:

Mary Francis, #50, there are a couple Segway tour companies in DC.

#62 ::: Paula Lieberman ::: (view all by) ::: November 11, 2008, 11:57 PM:

Some years back there was a company that was making electric cars, with a name something like Solectra or Solectria.... but among other issues it couldn't get new car bodies without engines in them, meaning that the cost involved having to buy a new GM small car, then pull the engine etc out and put in the fully electric motor and batteries. The company was trying to get into facilities that had been a Boston Edison plant or some such for full rate production, but that never seemd to have have happened, and also, the support for electric cars, evaporated, along with all the support structure for solar and wind power research, development, testing, and evalution, not just the support structure development for power distribution and commercial implementation (more "benefits" of voodoo Reagonomics and cutting back on anything that
wasn't existing entrenched installed base....

What's installed might be crap, e.g., TCP/IP, Windows Whatever, etc., but it's there and inertia rules (TCP/IP is an escaped lab experiment. There are lots of better data transfer protocols, but since what's "deployed" doesn't HAVE the better protocol, and retrofit would be extremely expensive in all sorts of ways, it doesn't change.... it's a relative of the Y2K problem--the problem wasn't a technical one, it was an inertia one and level of effort required for change when change wasn't IMMEDIATELY worthwhile and beneficial and providing a postive return on investment, one....

#63 ::: Graydon ::: (view all by) ::: November 12, 2008, 12:34 AM:

David @59 -

50 miles is a bit low, don't you think? GM's EV1 had a 160 mile range, and that was with a battery tech that hasn't really prospered and late 90s tech generally.

50% system efficiency is way high for internal combustion; the very best immense marine diesels manage about 43%. Pure electric is mostly battery limited; getting 98% in the motors isn't that difficult these days. Should be well over 80% as a system with regenerative braking.

One solution for charging on 15 Amp circuits is to charge something else; another, stationary, battery bank or ultracapacitors or something, and use that at whatever scary amperage and voltage to charge the car.

My suspicion is that we'll end up with a battery tech fix for this; lots of people are looking for it, and battery research that doesn't require small batteries (for a car, you don't care if the minimum useful size is 50 kg; for everything else batteries are used for, you care about it being small more than about pure energy density) has been rather neglected since nuke subs came in.

If not, I still don't think 220V dryer plugs in the garage is generally difficult.

The other point that doesn't get emphasized enough is that price really does scale with parts count, and that the while the current pure electric designs are hundred thousand dollar sports cars, there really are many fewer parts in an electric car than current cars. Get all the bits into series production on the same scale as the current gas burners and the price should be substantially lower.

#64 ::: David Dyer-Bennet ::: (view all by) ::: November 12, 2008, 10:19 AM:

50 miles is a bit low, but it's also the goal towards which current development is striving. I hear sponsor messages every day about how the Chevy Volt is aimed to have a 40-mile range, in a couple of years. (Ah; that's not actually an all-electric, it's a series hybrid, so that explains that.)

Here are the figures from Wikipedia; which confirms both my memory of 100 miles but really less, and yours of 160 miles:

The Gen 1 cars got 55 to 75 miles (90 to 120 km) per charge with the Delco-manufactured lead-acid batteries, 75 to 100 miles (120-to-160 km) with the Gen 2 Panasonic lead-acid batteries, and 75 to 150 miles (120 to 240 km) per charge with Gen 2 Ovonic nickel-metal hydride batteries. Recharging took as much as eight hours for a full charge (although one could get an 80% charge in two to three hours).

Their full-charge number is just over 2x out from my back-of-the-envelope generic number, which is pretty good as envelopes go.

The cost figures for the EV1 are based on the research-level production they did, so they don't tell me that much about what a real production model will cost. (They say $80,000.)

#65 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: November 12, 2008, 10:54 AM:

How do you charge your electric car parked on the street in NYC?

#66 ::: Chris Gerrib ::: (view all by) ::: November 12, 2008, 11:07 AM:

My understanding that another problem with Sterling engines is that they don't throttle well. To get them to run at a higher RPM requires changing the heat of combustion - which is harder to do then just throw more fuel in like in an internal combustion engine.

But if your Sterling engine is attached to a generator, RPM is constant - load on the prime mover is expressed as torque.

#67 ::: Chris Gerrib ::: (view all by) ::: November 12, 2008, 11:10 AM:

Charging street-parked cars would be a pain in the neck in the short-to-medium term. In the long term, I could see parking meters becoming pay-as-you-go electrical outlets.

#68 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: November 12, 2008, 11:43 AM:

220V at 15 or 20 amps should be fairly easy to put in - in fact, a lot of houses probably have that already, because some appliances require it. If you need more amps than that, you'll be running into special sockets and heavy-duty circuitry. (Been there, done that, kthx.)

#69 ::: Cat Meadors ::: (view all by) ::: November 12, 2008, 11:57 AM:

One thing I want to know about electric cars - how much do they help when your electricity is coming from coal? Aren't coal-fired plants worse than gas-burning cars?

#70 ::: C. Wingate ::: (view all by) ::: November 12, 2008, 11:59 AM:

Any guesses as to the KWHs expended in NYC by cars in a day, as opposed to current electricity consumption there?

The range of an electric car really needs to be several times daily mileage driven. A couple hundred miles seems necessary.

#71 ::: David Dyer-Bennet ::: (view all by) ::: November 12, 2008, 12:09 PM:

P J Evans@68: Yes, many (most that I've seen) houses already have 220 service. Yes, 220 sockets in the basement are fairly easy to wire (I've wired a number myself).

And it's not actually "hard" to run 220 out to your garage if it isn't already there (some garages that were set up as shop space at some point have enough power to run arc-welders and the like).

It's just moderately expensive.

It requires new wiring from the main service panel, out through the wall of the house, to the garage, and then to outlets. In modern installations this is almost always done underground, so it involves digging a trench, as well as going through both the house wall and the garage wall.

It's a project that an amateur electrician can take on, and it's totally familiar territory for any professional. It's just that it takes a bit of work. I stand by my very rough estimate (and of course it depends on the exact house, garage, their distance, the ground in between, where the service panel is in the basement, and so forth) of a couple of thousand dollars to extend existing 220 service in the house out to the garage (professionally; the materials are much less than that, most of the cost is labor).

And, as other people have pointed out, people who don't have a garage, or any any reserved parking space very close to their house, have bigger problems trying to recharge an electric car. Apartment dwellers parking on the street in dense cities have basically no hope, short of the city installing electric outlets at each parking space (presumably metered). Don't hold your breath.

#72 ::: Larry Brennan ::: (view all by) ::: November 12, 2008, 12:53 PM:

JDM@65 - I'd think the classic way would be to break into a lightpole...

#73 ::: Graydon ::: (view all by) ::: November 12, 2008, 01:01 PM:

Cat @69 --

Coal plants, assuming a vaguely sane regulatory environment which the US does not presently possess, are better per unit of work or energy than cars are, because you do get scale efficiencies for scrubbers, etc. in a large coal plant. You are also running Carnot cycle steam power conversion, rather than Otto or Diesel cycle internal combustion.

The other part of it is that once you have the electric cars, you can get the electrons from anywhere. Internal combustion engines have to keep combusting, which greatly constrains the scope of choice available in the transport environment.

James @65 --

Depends on your electron tank technology.

If you use vanadium redox batteries you can just pour charged fluid into the system. The fluid is sulfuric or phosphoric acid, mostly, so it's nastier than gasoline but not that nasty; durable tech for storing oil of vitriol is very common since sulfuric acid is such a common industrial waste product.

If you're using a hybrid, you fuel the combustion motor in the hybrid.

Parking meters might provide induction chargers.

Lithium Titaniate batteries and 3 phase AC chargers at the fueling station get your charge time down to 10 minutes. Which means the charge station is going to sell coffee.

C. Wingate @ 70 --

Transport energy use is about half of all energy use. A fully electric infrastructure for transport would involve a lot of new electron tank technologies, and a lot of new generation or capture.

However, that's instead of spending a lot of money on oil; its money that gets spent to drive innovation inside the local economy. All by itself, even without the reduced pollution, that's a net win.

Also consider that something like the vanadium redox fuel cells could be, in principle, "fueled" by charging the electrolyte in big solar dish thermal farms in Arizona and shipping the electrolyte to where it is to be used. The energy density isn't as good as it needs to be to make that really attractive; one is better off running a windmill or solar array locally and building up charged stocks.

Methane continues to wallop the energy density of any available battery technology, which is why "make methane from atmospheric CO2 using solar power, ship to end users" is attractive.

If the end users have Stirling-electric cars with powered suspensions and directly driven wheels, those cars should both perform better and cost less than the current technology.

#74 ::: David Dyer-Bennet ::: (view all by) ::: November 12, 2008, 01:25 PM:

Graydon@73: Are "powered suspensions" a significant factor in efficiency? Are they a significantly different thing from what were called "active suspensions" which just did a moderate amount of automatic or manual adjustment to keep the tire footing flat?

#75 ::: Cat Meadors ::: (view all by) ::: November 12, 2008, 03:16 PM:

I dunno about sanely regulated coal plants - all we have is the one down the street that should be closed (and has been) because it breaks every clean-air rule there is, but it keeps getting reopened because of homeland security.

So in this world, if *I* got an electric car, that's where it's electrons would be coming from. (And as we all know, it's all about me.)

On the other hand, I'm not at all worried about the infrastructure of recharging stations. I mean, we managed to build the whole gas-station system from scratch, I'd think this would be trivial in comparison. About fifteen years ago, I read an article about an ecology professor who got a plug-in car and got his college to put in an outdoor pluggy thing where he parked. It couldn't have been too much effort if academic admins would do it. (They charged him for the electricity, too, so it must have even been metered somehow. I do remember it was locked - he had a key and any electricity that came out of that socket was charged to his account.)

I can see it being popular around here, especially - set up charging parking spots at government buildings and a) you're covering your green initiative wossis and b) you're giving folks big-time incentive to get a plug-in car, because for most gov't buildings, parking spots are like the Holy Grail of perks. Anywhere public with a parking garage, no problem. Strip malls? Maybe. They set aside pregnant lady parking spots, I can see them putting in pay-n-charge spots. And for on-street parking, I really like the parking meter idea - there's a cash incentive for the city to do it, and the idea isn't anything new or scary.

Condos/townhomes would be the hardest, I think - they don't have the density of apartment buildings, and each homeowner would have to be responsible for their own solution. Then again, we did have a handicapped spot on our street when I first moved in (and it disappeared when the residents of that house moved), so I know the city *will* set aside private spots on public streets for some reasons. All they'd have to do would be to include "charging station" as one of those reasons. (And then my stupid neighbors would have to stop taking up two spots with their stupid lack of parking skills! Double win!)

Yeah, there'd have to be an initial investment in it, but it's not like all those giant gas tanks ran out and buried themselves under a bunch of spontaneously-generated pumps with the rise of the automobile, either. I'm more worried about how we'll be making more electricity in the future - fuel from all that "extra" corn sounded like a great idea, until people actually decided it really was and started using all the food for gas.

#76 ::: Madeline F ::: (view all by) ::: November 12, 2008, 03:41 PM:

One note: if parking meters had electric plugs, there would be a ton of homeless people camping on the sidewalks right next to the parking meter, running space heaters and toasters and boomboxes and stuff. I don't know if that would be good or bad, but it would certainly be there.

#77 ::: David Dyer-Bennet ::: (view all by) ::: November 12, 2008, 03:55 PM:

Madeline@76: probably depends to some degree on how much the electricity costs. The proposals I've seen don't have it on all the time, only while you've put some amount of money in the meter.

Anyway, if they could access it (free, or at lesast within their budgets) it might actually *spread out* the homeless people, rather than concentrating them in the relatively few free open places with shelter the way they do now in winter.

#78 ::: Raphael ::: (view all by) ::: November 12, 2008, 04:31 PM:

Graydon @48: Leakage being a net problem assumes that the amount of leakage is large compared to the amount of storage.

No, it just assumes that the amount of leakage might be large enough to be a relevant factor in the climate system- that may or may not be large compared to the amount of storage, depending on how much storage you'd have.

Cat Meadors @69 how much do they help when your electricity is coming from coal? Aren't coal-fired plants worse than gas-burning cars?

I haven't done the calculations, but I guess that they probably aren't worse, since first, only a part, rather than all, of electricity comes from coal plants, and second, there's economies of scale involved. But yes, it would be better if there would be less electricity from coal plants- but that can be tackled independently.

#79 ::: don delny ::: (view all by) ::: November 12, 2008, 06:16 PM:

C. Wingate, 70,
The range of an electric car really needs to be several times daily mileage driven. A couple hundred miles seems necessary.

That's a really interesting question. Hmm...back of the envelope, using my old commute:
9.9 mi to work, one way x2 = 19.8
9.9 mi to groceries, one way x2 = 19.8
13.3 mi to the anime shop, one way x2 = 26.6
So, 66.2 mi on a day when I work once, and shop twice. So 40 mi/charge would come really close to doing what I needed it to. In reality, my job and the grocery store were on the same route, though I'll grant a 40 mi/charge limit would put a crimp on going out on the town after work, and would require some thoughtful planning of errands, but I'm doing that anyway due to the special period.

Now I live someplace more population dense, so work is 4mi roundtrip, and groceries are 2, letting me do my daily errands 6 days a week between charges. (No, I can't use a bike, and hesitate to use a scooter given hills and an interstate merging onto heavily trafficked local roads.)

#80 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: November 12, 2008, 06:59 PM:

For me: 35 miles one way to the nearest movie theater. 55 miles one way to the nearest bookstore (that isn't just a few shelves in an office-supply store).

And the electric car has to have batteries that work well at forty degrees below zero.

#81 ::: Stefan Jones ::: (view all by) ::: November 12, 2008, 07:24 PM:

I'd be a perfect candidate for an electric car. 3.5 mile commute, almost level, with the following in between (or no more than 1/4 mile out of the way):

Best Buy
Office Depot
Office Max
Trader Joe's
Haagen (upscale grocery)
Whole Foods
Winco (uh, downscale grocery?)
Several clothing big box stores I don't remember the names
Joe's (sports, outdoors, auto parts)
Michael's crafts.
About a dozen fast food joints

The mass transit situation is kind of dicey for me. There are bus stops right outside of work and right outside of my apartment complex, but getting from one to the other would require either a connection and/or a 1/4 mile walk.

Something like a Smart car -- big enough for me and two bags of groceries -- that I could plug in overnight would be swell.

#82 ::: don delny ::: (view all by) ::: November 12, 2008, 07:25 PM:

James D. Macdonald, 80,
That's a really interesting design constraint! Wow.
I wonder how many people live in a climate temperate enough / close enough to work/shopping to make conventional electrics work. Do you think the Köppen-Geiger type climate maps would be more helpful, or the USDA hardiness zone maps?

#83 ::: Vicki ::: (view all by) ::: November 12, 2008, 07:37 PM:

Madeline @ 76:

Parking meters are already configured to charge for a service on the basis of time. I doubt it would be a significant financial problem for either the city/town government or the electric company.

I can see use by the homeless causing a practical problem for some drivers, because they'd want to charge their electric cars and find someone else already camped out at that meter and having coins to feed it, but the electric company isn't likely to find itself being cheated here. (It isn't cheated on the relatively rare occasions that someone plugs into a street lamp either, because the city pays for power used by those, whether as lights or because a random third party plugs in an extension cord.)

#84 ::: Madeline F ::: (view all by) ::: November 12, 2008, 08:03 PM:

I'm not talking about the homeless stealing power. It does point out, though, that the electric car would have to have the ability to lock an extension cord in place (like, the cord/plug meeting point behind a locking door with a slot for the cord to exit) so no one steals your extension cord. You'd have to have your own extension cord because what with copper thieves, anything sitting around for weeks attached to a parking meter would get ripped off.

No, I'm talking about the usual "homeless problems". Are you going to get enough money from the homeless using the power meter to support the cost of installing the meters? They'd probably scare off people who just wanted to juice their cars. Will there be enough power plugs for both types of user? Is it going to bring homeless people into more obvious locations? Will that crush tourism? Will spreading the homeless people out cause them to be more or less safe? Can the program survive a broken electric blanket plugged into a power meter burning some poor stoned guy to death?

#85 ::: Rikibeth ::: (view all by) ::: November 12, 2008, 08:47 PM:

If the electric cars charged on 220v power, then parking meter charging stations wouldn't be useful for electric blankets or boom boxes, not without a transformer at least.

#86 ::: Marilee ::: (view all by) ::: November 12, 2008, 11:04 PM:

Larry, #72, there's actually a plug at the base of the light pole next to my handicapped spot.

#87 ::: Graydon ::: (view all by) ::: November 12, 2008, 11:35 PM:

Raphael @78 --


We have 4 positions for atmospheric carbon in this simplified scenario.

Atmospheric CO2.

Atmospheric CH4; it's there as part of the biosphere, rather than human activity. Inevitable side effect of stuff rotting.

CH4 that's been created from atmospheric CO2, and stuck in a storage tank.

Carbon atoms that are going from CH4 to CO2 (we hope, could be going to other things) in an engine.

We don't care about the in-engine case; it's not a large fraction of the total.

1 CH4 = 21 CO2 for greenhouse purposes. CH4 lasts about 12 years in the atmosphere.

So if we're turning CO2 into CH4 (and releasing a lot of oxygen because the hydrogen atoms probably come from water), there's a relationship between the amount of stored methane, the greenhouse effect of the methane that leaks from that storage, its atmospheric lifetime, and the greenhouse effect of the CO2 that isn't there because it's methane in a tank.

If the amount in the tank is large compared to the amount that leaks -- 12 x 21 suggests naively that leakage needs to be under one part in 252 of the tank volume for the net warming effect to be positive. (That is, there's less atmospheric carbon warming effect going on than there would be if we weren't making methane fuel out of atmospheric CO2.)

That's naive because the methane doesn't all sit in the atmosphere for 12 years and then all chemically alter at once, and because this doesn't take into account the fossil carbon that's not being added. I am not up to producing the differential equation to define the non-naive case, though.

Note that the naive case is a quarter of a percent, which would be tough but not impossible, so I tend to believe the folks who suggest that the actual case is a net win, even without displacing fossil carbon from the power cycle.

David @74 --

Powered suspensions aren't a significant factor in efficiency; they're a significant factor in cost. You get a second electric motor replacing most of the springs, struts, shocks, etc.; parts count goes way down. With a mature design the drive motor replaces the brakes, too. You either run it as a generator to provide drag or run it the other way for "stop now".

There's a picture of the inside of a wheel for the Venturi Volange here, where they, or at least the article writer, calls it an active suspension.

Madeline F @84 --

You don't use an extension cord; you use a solid swing arm with an induction charger, as GM developed for the EV2, and then you don't have to worry about anybody managing to stick a fork in the thing, either.

Advanced malice can still produce many sparks and a bright light, but it's relatively rare for people to mess with streetlights for that purpose; I'd expect it would stay rare for people to mess with powered parking meters.

#88 ::: David Dyer-Bennet ::: (view all by) ::: November 13, 2008, 10:11 AM:

Rikibeth@85: Well, depends how it's wired. Two hots on different phases plus a neutral is the normal setup, and that gives 110 easily (between either hot and the neutral) without a transformer.

Or else your electric blanket will get *really* warm :-).

#89 ::: don delny ::: (view all by) ::: November 13, 2008, 12:17 PM:

Oh, there was this junior senator from Illinois who wrote an article about fixing the auto manufacturers and flex fuel. I wonder whatever became of him...

#90 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: November 13, 2008, 12:33 PM:

Graydon @ 87
The storage problem for large-scale methane storage is the same as for natural gas. In Southern California, it's stored underground, in old oil fields. (Which can lead to the interesting side effect of getting more gas out than was put in, but that's another matter.) No tanks to leak, but there is a plumbing and compressor system to maintain.

#91 ::: Caroline ::: (view all by) ::: November 13, 2008, 02:05 PM:

I rode in an electric car from the Boston Zipcar fleet a few years ago. I believe it charged on 220V power; the plug was certainly not that of a normal household outlet. It was much larger and shaped differently. I can't remember what kind of car it was.

#92 ::: Kevin Marks ::: (view all by) ::: November 14, 2008, 06:58 PM:

We have several plug-in hybrids just outside the building I'm sitting in, as well as solar cells in the car park to recharge them.
The other advantage of PEH's is that they can act as energy buffers - they can charge at night, and sell power back at peak times, so can be net profitable for owners if the electric metering is set up right.

#93 ::: Spam Deleted ::: (view all by) ::: January 12, 2009, 08:34 PM:


#94 ::: siriosa ::: (view all by) ::: July 20, 2011, 02:44 AM:

We recently got a quote from for how much we'd save if they installed solar panels here. Sadly, it was a negative number. We use very little electricity, and the only way we could save money using solar panels is if we bought electric cars. Which are running about $30k atm.

There are other good reasons to install solar panels, but you need the cash to do it first.

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