Zagato’s PRT Pod A Huge Hit at WFES

Zagato is much better known for such suave stylings as those made for Maserati, Ferrari and Aston Martin, but it was their Personal Rapid Transit (PRT) pod which seems to have gotten the lion’s share of attention at the World Future Energy Summit (WFES) in Abu Dhabi this year. The PRTs are going to be used to transport students at the Masdar Institute of Science and Technology this fall. For now, they’re on display and wowing the attendees.

The WFES has brought together heads of State, auto manufacturers, energy producers, scientists, and all manner of other concerned parties, both to network and to thinktank what our futures will hold. As you may have read, the Middle-east is sinking billions into alternative energies, and clearly taking the next wave of energy into their own hands — including acquiring the PRTs.The PRTs operate by calculating the number of revolutions of the tires, the direction traveled, and calibrating all of that by magnetic sensors which correlate with marked positions on the street. Sensors slow or stop the vehicle if there’s an object blocking the path ahead.

Studies have shown them to be much safer than having a human operator. The pods will travel to pre-determined stops, but will not run unless there are occupants, avoiding the waste of large bus routes which operate at all hours. Seating 4 comfortably (or 6 cramped,) the cost of these pods, once they’re being mass-produced, is expected to be about $40k each, will run on LiOn batteries from China, and will run for 3 hours before they need to be recharged. The pods are expected to play a big part in the zero-carbon city of Marsdar, as there will be 50,000 residents and another 40,0000 workers who arrive in the city every workday, all leaving their cars (if they have them) at the gate.  Similar craft have carried people in Europe already.  

2getthere, the same company which developed the PRT pods, has provided Holland’s Rotterdam with some 300 automated lorries, for example.  They also have developed human transport vehicles for use there in the Netherlands. The comfort and safety of the pods shows us a rather favorable vision of the future.  Ride on cushioned seats, holding hands or facing each other.  Have a conversation, catch up on the morning news.  The car will stop to let you off at your chosen destination.  Chauffeurs for everyone, and Green at that?  That’s our future?  Not bad.  Not bad at all! 

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Green Vehicles Cost More — Fact or Fantasy?

A comment recently left to an article in a national publication states:

“I love the fantasy of creating a green economy. Very few people can afford green. Green cars cost a lot more than the regular variety. Very few are sold. And the payback for the extra cost is years, years. …” — marrtyy, manhattan”

Marrtyy, allow me to retort. HOGwash! The sad part is that people still believe this sort of ridiculous rhetoric. Nearly entirely absent of fact, “marrtyy ” in Manhattan would like to derail the entire “green economy” (as he calls it). Reality: Green need not cost any more. In fact, the opposite is true, when it comes to cars. They start at under $10k, run an average of $25-30k, and can be as high as well over $100k (Tesla). Custom conversions of existing cars can be pricey, but that’s still not mandatory, and less expensive conversions are possible.

Now let’s look at the up-side. Even with cheaper gas, the cost per mile to drive an electric vehicle is just a fraction of a gasoline or diesel car. If you’re paying 2 cents a mile for your electric car, that adds up VERY quickly, when stacked against 6 cents per mile — and 6 cents a mile is for a car getting 30 mpg, with gas at $1.60 a gallon. When it goes back up again, (and you can bet it will) the gap will be even greater. Driving 20,000 miles a year, that difference alone saves you a couple car payments every year. Then there’s the oil changes you don’t need, the cleaner air you enjoy, the money NOT being sent out of the country or handed over to Big Oil, that can be spent in your own neighborhood and here in the States. Sorry to burst your ignorance bubble, “marrtyy”, but electric cars make a lot of sense, and don’t cost more. In fact, they cost less, and that’s before Green is even factored in!

It’s going to be important that we who recognize the importance of this transition are armed with the facts, so that negative ignorance like that presented as fact by “marrtyy” isn’t seen as credible. Going Green doesn’t have to cost more, up-front or in the long run. It’s also important that Green companies not gouge and make his doom and gloom illusion come true.

100 MPG Blast From The Past

Watching this video earlier today, I found a comedic blast from the past. The vehicle? The Peel P50, a 1962 one-seater 49cc 4.2 horsepower 3-wheel car, sans reverse, that gets 100 mpg. Yep. In 1963, a vehicle was made that sports a headlamp, windshield wipers and gets 100 miles per gallon. The top speed of 40 mph may be achieved depending, as the commentator notes, “on what you’ve had for breakfast.” When the entire vehicle weighs in at 130 pounds, weight is a factor.

While the video is quite a bit of fun, it also points something out: Even if we were to get 100 mpg, we’d still be stenching things up with fossil fuels. Improve the engine all you like, and it’s still bellowing out smoke. Give it a reverse gear and higher performance engine, so it gets 60 mpg and goes 70 mph, you’ve still got the same basic problem.

What if a similar vehicle were made with an electric motor? Well yes, it’d still be a scary little box to be driving around in, considering that it makes a Yugo into a full-sized sedan, but the smoke goes away, the noise goes away, top speed is improved, and a reverse would probably be inherent. So even if our comedic blast from the past doesn’t quite set the world on fire, it still shows us some valuable information as we navigate our way through to truly Green technologies.
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Mini Challenges Detroit, Wins Race By Years!

Maybe it’s a size thing. There must be SOME good reason why Mini managed to build an electric production model car in 10 months when GM’s Chevy Volt hasn’t been able to do so in 3 years and a LOT of money. But sure enough, there it was at the November 2008 L.A. Auto Show, the Mini E!

BMW-owned Mini has a way of doing things their own way, and this is no exception. Five hundred Mini E electric cars will be build put on the road as long-term test drive cars. The price? Well, that may make some of the nearly 10,000 people who have signed up for the Mini E take a pause. The lease is a scathing $850 a month — to be a part of the experiment. Of course that’s offset a bit by the fact that they’ll cost next to nothing to run or maintain.

Mini is looking at this as the first stage of their ascendancy — a Beta Test, per se. “The know-how gained from this project will help us perfect the Mini E’s innovative drive system and speed production of a mega city car,” said Mini spokeswoman Natalie Bauters. Already their first stage is a lot more car than most others’ best efforts.

What’s under the hood? 150 kilowatts of electric motor producing 204 horsepowers of instant torque, kept in juice by a high-performance lithium-ion battery that Mini says is good for 150 miles per full charge. There’s a single-stage helical gearbox to put the power out to the front wheels. Zero to 60 is about 8.5 seconds (which seems a bit slow, considering, and may be improved.) This Mini E’s maximum speed is limited to 95 m.p.h. The down-side? The batteries took posession of what would have been the rear seats; this Mini is a 2-seater… with the very consistent stylings of a Mini, not too far off from their Coopers.

Before you rush out the door, remember that there are only 500 available, and there’s a long list ahead of you. But you should be seeing them on the streets of L.A. and New York very soon… which is a lot more than anyone can say for the Volt. Ain’t it amazing? And BMW hasn’t asked us for one red cent in bailout.
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Neil Young: Detroit’s Dinosaurs Can Go Electric

It seems everywhere there’s a push for smaller, lighter, more energy efficient cars. These days it’s a foregone conclusion that the cars of the near future will be electric. For Neil Young, the venerable singer-songwriter and outspoken environmentalist, that doesn’t mean having to choose between the huge Detroit beast he loves and the toxic gas consumption we all hate. It’s all about walking the talk, right? Neil Young has formed a company, Linc Volt Technology, and is using his beloved 1959 Lincoln Continental as proof.

“Detroit can do without that $25 billion in retooling loans,” Mr. Young says, “It can make electric cars from existing designs with the tools it already has.” In walking the talk, he has combined forces, pulling together an international team to convert his mammoth 5,000 pound Lincoln Continental from a 9-1o mpg fuel hog to a very friendly 100 mpg example of what can be done. On board is UQM of Denver, the company providing the electric engine, and the Australian firm responsible for building the engine that carried an aircraft around the world without refueling. Young’s car would be a hybrid, with a Compressed Natural Gas (CNG) motor generating electricity. Young thinks that the car may end up generating more juice than it uses, meaning that when you plug it in when you get back home, it will actually run your home meter backwards. But he concedes that Detroit’s versions would probably benefit from lighter materials.

Young isn’t the only one who wants a bigger Green vehicle. Salesforce.com Chief Executive Officer Marc Benioff, CEO of Salesforce.com, wants a F-150 converted. Andy Grove, former CEO of Intel, is pushing for a government program to retrofit existing trucks and SUVs, giving them a plug-in electric engine. It seems more than a few people want to keep on having big cars AND be Green while they’re at it. We’re not thrilled that it still has a combustion engine in it, but applaud his efforts to go Green and conserve the energy created while the CNG engine is at it.

How does he like his conversion car? “It’s just a lot faster. A lot healthier… It went from being a hog to being a swan.”
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Electric Cars Get Real

After some slow and false starts with “cars” like the ZAP from China, it seems that electric cars are becoming real-world practical. Tesla’s $100k+ sports car isn’t real world for most of us, and the ZAPs don’t seem to be holding up to their claims.

This bothered one guy (who had wasted $100k investing in a dealership for the ZAP/Xebra and never even getting ONE car from them,) so much that he decided to take matters into his own hands. The result was the Triac, built by combining the efforts and design abilities of the US and China. His company is appropriately named Green Vehicles, out of California.

The Triac is an ultra-modern 3-wheel vehicle with a top speed of about 80 mph, and a range of 70 miles between charges. It’s a 2-seater with room for some cargo in back. The Triac comes in at a base price just under $23,0000 USD.

Green Vehicles has two other models available as well. Their Buckshot is also a trike, with the single wheel forward, allowing the two rear wheels to hold the payload of an open cargo bed. The extra-cab design gives the driver or passenger a bit more comfortable seating than similar models from ZAP provided. Sticker shock is $21,995

Green Vehicles’ final offer of this year is the Moose. This time, they’ve opted for four wheels on the ground, and made an electric cargo van. This could be popular for local deliveries and even a budding family. Its 60 mile range is reasonable, and the price is a mere $12,995.

A more attractive and practical vehicle showed up in Paris this year at the car shows. South Africa has offered up the very competitive Joule from Optimal Energy. This is a 6-seater that goes 84 mph, 0-60 time of 4.8 seconds, and has a standard 125 mile range, (250 mile range optional) and 7 hour recharge time on Lithium Ion batteries (at 220 volts AC). Obviously, it’s right up there with most gas cars in terms of performance, space, etc. — without the gas tank or tailpipe. Ready for the kicker? $24,618 USD (presumably FOB South Africa). How do they do it? The designer genius being the Joule is amongst the most convincing aspects. Keith Helfet, who designed Jaguar’s F-type and XK220 is the man, and the car is his baby. Read more

Back To The Future

A mechanic friend just sent me an email full of pictures and descriptions of a Dodge sedan that had been lovingly owned by a veterinarian who died about 8 years after buying the car new — in 1940. The car was safely put up in a garage, where it remained until it was discovered some 60 years later. I was hoping he was telling me he’d acquired this vehicle, but just being able to see the pictures is both moving and educating.

It was truly spacious and elegant. The highly detailed interior was made to blend harmoniously throughout. In short, the car was magnificent, a very comfortably functional piece of art… one of 87,000 such cars built in Detroit in 1939. Suspension was apparently already capable of making for a very comfortable ride, even on dirt roads. The car came with a 217 cubic inch 87 HP engine, a radio and an ashtray, floating hydraulic brakes, electric start, and much attention was paid to the little details that make such a car so wonderful.

So all those features were already available in 1940. What have we REALLY invented to improve it since? Heat & refrig? Big deal. The STRUCTURAL, functional part of the automobile was already largely done. And look at how simple and clean the motor is!

All of that was accomplished between the Model-A Fords of 1903 and 1927, and the Dodge of 1940?

THE TIMELINE TRANSITION: Museum Restorations of a 1903 Ford Model-A, and a 1928 Ford Model-A (first row)
an unrestored 1940 Dodge Deluxe Sedan, and that Deluxe Sedan’s Dashboard (second row)

In comparison, we haven’t done anything since, really. The only real differences are found in plastic cosmetics (that most certainly wouldn’t have survived 60 or more years as these cars have done.)

Now let’s put it into perspective. In 1929, the U.S. stock market crashed. In 1937, the first wave of that depression ended, only to resurface in 1938 and continue until the beginning of our involvement in WWII in 1941. The government’s war spending signaled the official end of the Depression years. So the changes between the 1903 Model A and the 1928 Model A happened during the inflationary times just before the market crashed… and the beautiful Dodge was built during the years of the Great Depression itself!
What this demonstrates is that we can make huge strides, innovate, towards alternative energy cars, when and if we want to. A weak economy won’t stop creative, innovative minds from developing these technologies. Rather, Necessity may bring about many Inventions.

Now is the time for us to put on the thinking caps and tool kits. Now is the time for us to create the technologies that will carry us out of the fossil fuel era and into the far greater things we can do, and better ways we can be.

To Make An Omelette (Part 2 of 2)


VIDEO: Full of Hot Air?

(Continued from Dec. 4, 2008′s “Bustin’ Some Eggs” in the Energy News section)

Fuel prices have fallen sharply. Earlier this year, we saw $150 a barrel for crude, and over $4 a gallon at the pumps. In the past quarter, that has dropped to just over $41 a barrel (yesterday) and gasoline is well below $2 a gallon all across the nation. A part of this is supply and demand, but we would be foolish not to recognize that it’s the only smart strategy left for oil producing nations. When gasoline was crushing our budgets, causing everything we buy to increase dramatically, it seems we finally found wisdom, realized that we cannot afford this petroleum addiction. By keeping gas prices low, the oil producers hope out of sight will be out of mind, and we’ll forget the lessons of the first half of this year. We must not allow ourselves to be lulled into a false sense of security. Of course OPEC would rather have $40 a barrel than nothing for their oil. Once we are independent of their petrol, it will be nearly worthless, so they’ll do whatever it takes to keep us strung along. It is on us not to forget, to continue to develop alternative energy solutions as though our lives depended upon it. They do.

No transition happens without growing pains. You’ve gotta break some eggs to make an omelette, as they say. Let’s begin to see these pains as a badge of honor, a first-hand proof that we’re growing past the juvenile fossil fuel existence that brought us out of the Dark Ages. The time has come for us to leave that in our past as we head into maturity. Let us not look upon solar panels and wind turbines as eyesores, but as a symbol of our freedom from dependence upon foreign oil, our liberation from the filthy toxic pollution that threatens our very existence. Indeed, we’re going through some growing pains but, if you’ll pardon the mixing of metaphors, we’re on our way to making one beautiful and delicious omelette.
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Hawaii Backs Electric Cars

A couple of days ago, Hawaii’s government and the Hawaiian Electric Company endorsed pursuing electric vehicles and the technologies and infrastructure that would make it happen. Amongst important features named were that the batteries be swappable, and that their recharging be Intelligent. Behind this concept is Shai Agassi, previously a Silicon Valley computer code exec who seems to know how to get things done.

The intrastructure plan is to team up tens of thousands of recharging stations via the Internet, creating a network that will make plug-in electric cars a real-world solution. Hawaii is not alone in saluting the plan. Agassi has gathered an ever-growing list of approvals, from national governments to regional planning groups and, of course, a major automobile manufacturer who hopes to step in and provide the cars. Other endorsing nations include Australia, Denmark, and Israel. Renault-Nissan is on board to develop a plug-in vehicle with a range of more than 100 miles, and to begin offering them before January 1, 2011. They are preparing to perform testing in 2009, and begin widespread commercial sales of the cars in 2012.

So far, Agassi’s contacts have saluted to the tune of 1.2 billion dollars in private international financing. It would seem he has his eye on the long-term profits as well. “I believe the new asset class is batteries,” he said. “When you have a driver in a car using a battery, nobody is going to cut their subscription and stop driving.” While that may not be the altruistic message we’d hoped for, it shows that he has the business savvy to make this project financially enticing to investors who might otherwise shy away from such an endeavor. He calculates that even if gas prices continue to drop, the electric cars and his recharging network will continue to be competitive in island economies, and become affordable for the mainland as well, as the project takes off.

Agassi is entirely correct about electric cars being ideal for island environments. People don’t often drive more than 100 miles, costs of fuel and vehicles are high, and people don’t drive very fast even when they can. Meanwhile, Hawaiian Electric Company is wisely seeing this as an opportunity to develop renewable energy sources that they could then connect to the electric grid to provide the necessary power for Agassi’s company, Better Place, and their recharging network.

Agassi seems to be everywhere with this vision. Earlier this year, mayors within the Bay Area cities, including San Francisco, gave their nod to Better Place’s concept of creating an electric recharging network with half a million recharging stations as soon as 2012. Better Place expects that charging network to cost about a billion dollars.

Daniel Kammen, PhD, of UC Berkeley’s Energy & Resources Group, projects that there will be the usual difficulties inherent in any new transportation system, but that it has “a lot of promising features,” that could make it attractive to fleet owners and ecologically-minded customers.

Of course, the program works best when teamed up with renewable sources of energy, such as solar farms and wind turbines. We appreciate Mr. Agassi’s efforts in getting Hawaii and the rest of the world going Green!

Ford’s Scion Developing Green Cars

William C. Ford, Jr., is a rare man, indeed.  The 51 year old grandson of Henry Ford, who founded the company with his Model-A, has been taking Going Green seriously for some time now.  Though he and his company have also been hit hard by the economic times, Ford is the only one of the big 3 U.S. auto manufacturers which is NOT asking Congress for any money right now.  This would seem to confirm that this scion of the Ford legacy is indeed a man prone to looking to the future.

William Ford, Jr. has been meeting directly with President-Elect Obama since August (long before he was elected) and working on Green transportation solutions.  This alone speaks volumes about the purity of his intent.  Mr. Ford would like to see the United States free of foreign oil, but points out that we must also develop our own battery solutions, so that we don’t become dependent upon Asian countries for the batteries instead.

President-Elect Obama’s Governor Jennifer Granholm (D, MI) a member of the president-elect’s economic advisory team, speaks well of Mr. Ford, saying  that he “has tremendous credibility with respect to the serious issues related to renewable energy and energy security for this nation.” Indeed, while remaining solvent, Ford has managed to put out the first hybrid SUVs, and will be making a new engine design available within the year, offering a 20% savings in fuel efficiency.  But Ford is ready to go a step further, to step back from the “Ford Tough” trucks that have been their mainstay and focus on the company’s smaller fuel-efficient vehicles.

While Toyota may have developed the Scion line of automobiles, it seems the scion we want to watch is the Ford.   Alternate-Power.org tips its hat to Ford Motor Corporation for their continuing dedication to a Greener, energy-independent United States of America. Read more

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