Friday, December 10, 2010

More Cars Get 40 MPG; Ethanol on the Hill

A couple of Friday articles of interest:

Automakers are offering more conventional cars that cross the 40-miles-per-gallon threshold in highway driving, but relatively low gas prices continue to hold off buyers.
"When gas is cheap, no one is going to be rushing out to buy a small car," says Gabriel Shenhar, senior auto test engineer for Consumer Reports.

But automakers are keenly aware of how many were caught short in 2008 when gas prices shot up to a $4.14 per gallon peak in July, so they are adding 40-mpg cars as a hedge.
Two interesting tidbits (my italics):
In past years, few models were able to get a 40-mpg rating without using more expensive hybrid or diesel technology. Now automakers are starting to show they can hit that mark with improved conventional gasoline powertrains for a smaller price premium — or none.

"We found that 40 (mpg) is the new 30. Everyone wants great fuel mileage," Chevrolet spokeswoman Lesley Hettinger says.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Fiji water is from Fiji

Fiji water comes in a beautiful bottle. 

I paid attention to the Fiji bottle for the first time when my wife bought one at the Atlanta airport while we waited for a connecting flight.  I was struck by the bottle.  The graphics and name evoked a serene feeling.  I thought it was a very nice job of marketing.  Someone made filtered water from somewhere nearby seem serene and exotic.  It wasn't until I took a close look at the bottle that I discovered Fiji water was in fact from Fiji.

This water had travelled from halfway around the world to be in Atlanta.  (I won't point out the obvious--it tasted a lot like North Carolina water...)

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Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Miles per Gallon Rating for the Home

The Earth Advantage Institute has developed a program for evaluating home energy use that they call the "Energy Performance Score" (EPS).  They refer to their evaluation system as an "“MPG” or miles-per-gallon style rating or label for the built environment."

On this page, they note that:
Why is it different?
Unlike other existing rating systems such as HERS (Home Energy Rating System), EPS enables home buyers to assess actual energy consumption between homes, rather than comparing energy efficiency levels that could be similar for both a large and a small home.
The contrast with HERS is an interesting one.  Two homes of different size are analogous to two cars with the same MPG that drive different distances. Valuing an upgrade depends on total energy consumption, not efficiency alone.  Energy consumption is a function both of efficiency and use (i.e., house size, miles driven).

Although the MPG metaphor is a catchy one, EAI is actually offering an assessment of energy consumption--which is the right thing to focus on.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

What 100 MPGs looks like in 2010

The Automotive X- Prize was launched in 2006-2007 to inspire the creation of the first safe, practical vehicle to achieve 100 miles per gallon. The prize: $10 million.

The prize was awarded earlier this Fall to 3 teams. (Follow this link to an NPR story.)

The Edison 2 (top right) achieved an MPG above 100 using an internal combustion engine. It took home $5 million. The Li-ion (middle right) is a hybrid. The X-tracer (bottom right) is battery powered.

Because vehicles can achieve their efficiency using different fuel sources, the competition relies on an MPG measure called "MPG equivalent," or MPGe. The denominator for MPGe is created by translating all energy sources used (gas, electricity, etc.) to the energy equivalent of burning a gallon of gas. MPGe has the virtue of allowing one to compare and then combine across energy sources. However, it inherits all the usual problems of MPG--an improvement from 10 to 11 MPGe saves the same amount of energy as the improvement from 50 to 100 MPGe for a given distance of driving. (Aside: A "gallons equivalent" per 100 miles would fix this illusion.) A second fundamental problem with MPGe is that, because it mixes energy sources into a single number, it obscures the cost and greenhouse gas emissions of different vehicles.

Fast Company wrote this about the Edison 2 (top right):
The highly aerodynamic vehicle has wind-shrouds over its tires and weighs a mere 840 pounds on the road, both of which help it with its phenomenal fuel efficiency (for comparison the top-selling, well-known and supposedly eco-friendly 2010 Toyota Prius manages just 50 MPG--half the VLC's ability).
We're particularly taken with the look of the thing. It's by no means conventional, nor is it approaching the sort of design and engineering requirements a real, sale-worthy road-going car would need (although it's got heating, ventilation and passed some of the tests required for a car to go on sale in the U.S.). But it looks extraordinary--much more attractive than the odd electric Aptera, with which it shares some design cues. And this, more than anything, helps it promote the notion of alternative power and alternative design in cars which might help more eco-friendly cars race onto the market.
These cars are not actually ready to be commercialized. As noted in the NPR story:

Supporting 60 MPG

If you are interested in supporting the 60 MPG target, take a look at this site run by the Union of Concerned Scientists, the Sierra Club, the Natural Resources Defense Council, and Environment America. Click on the icon:

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