Future Vehicle Power and Energy Storage Means
Electricity vs. BioFuels
Hybrid vehicles rapidly coming into use involving conventional automobile engines combined with electrical generator/motors are saving energy. While these vehicles still use gasoline, it is probable that many of these hybrid vehicles, as well as completely battery operated vehicles, will soon have the capability of being charged at night and not use fossil fuel at all. In addition, these vehicles will be able to store and sell back power to the electrical grid when in their garages. This is the wave of the future for vehicles, not biofuels.
Battery efficiency is therefore key, and current work that is improving that further is very important.
Along with this, efficient electrical grids and inexpensive electricity, such as from high altitude wind power, are necessary.
The public is also well aware of the work on vehicles being developed now by most automobile manufacturers to utilize hydrogen technology, whether incorporating fuel cells or using hydrogen directly as engine fuel. However, there is no question that the problem of how hydrogen should be distributed to filling stations is significant, and is not a problem for the all electric vehicle power systems.
Now many interests are jumping on a bandwagon recommending ethanol as the best solution to provide vehicle power, the idea being that crops can substitute for fossil fuel and not affect global warming, because the crops extract carbon dioxide from the air during growth.
However, studies by well qualified academic sources have pointed out inconsistencies in the support for the merits claimed, especially on the subject of global warming.
Regardless of how the disputes turn out on its net provision of energy, corn based ethanol is scarcely better than gasoline in its release of the greenhouse gases that cause global warming. A government supported Argonne National Laboratory study has determined that corn based ethanol emits about three quarters as much greenhouse gases as gasoline. Cellulosic based ethanol has the potential of doing much better when the technology becomes fully developed, but will still emit some greenhouse gases according to the study.
Not only is the GHG aspect a problem, but from the economics side, it is important to note that farm subsidies are currently paid primarily to corporate ethanol providers at the expense of the taxpayers at large. This subsidy of fifty-one cents per gallon escapes being reflected in the pump prices for ethanol, where they belong. Not to mention that E85 does not power a vehicle as far per gallon as gasoline, as detailed in a recent Consumer Reports study.
With this background, it is hard to understand why some respected environmental organizations portray ethanol for vehicular use as being helpful in meeting global warming objectives. A little less bad than gasoline is not a great recomendation.
However, the NASA scientist James Hansen has pointed out that while using biofuels such as ethanol makes no sense from a global warming point of view if used in vehicles, if carefully cultivated and used to generate electicity at power plants, and if the carbon dioxide emitted is captured and sequestered in the process, this could actually be a tool to reduce carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, and thus actually reduce our global warming problem. Coupled with alternative energy power generation, this might well be our best course for the future.
The present main problem in producing hydrogen by electrolysis of water is the cost of the electric power to produce it. Thus, if there are circumstances in which the use of hydrogen is the best way to go, the key is still having a low cost of electricity, such as may be supplied by high altitude wind power.
As applied to electrical grids, high altitude wind power in combination with energy storage means also becomes an economic, "DISPATCHABLE" source of energy, not just a supplement to fossil fuel generated electric power, as wind energy is presently considered in the utility industry.
Whatever the storage means, the higher consistency of availability of the wind at high altitudes (capacity factor) results in relatively little energy storage being required to cover times of inadequate wind and therefore reduces the cost of energy storage well below that required to use energy storage in connection with ground based wind turbines with their lower capacity factors.
Hydrogen itself is a good storage means to handle seasonal wind energy differences. It can be produced and stored in the good wind winter months and used to provide electricity when needed at all times, including when winds are likely to be insufficient for a whole season, typically the summer.
For example, the capacity factor at Patiala, India for an FEG flying at 35,000 feet is calculated at only about 37 percent for the summer months, but approximately 90 percent for the remaining months. Therefore, hydrogen generation in the north of India using FEGs in the good months should be sufficient to supply all its energy needs, including electricity in the summer, but generated from stored hydrogen fueling turbines in the south, not directly from FEG arrays.
However, in the United States and many other places in the world, the more usual situation is that the goal is generation of electric power for only short periods, when FEGs are grounded due to inadequate winds or bad storms. In this situation other energy storage means exist which should be considered.
Pumped water storage is one of these means and is used now, such as by PG&E in California to pump water up to a high lake during low electrical use hours and then have that water generate electricity at high demand times on the way back to a lower lake.
Existing hydroelectric power at dams may be considered to be the equivalent of pumped water storage facilities by deliberately phasing in and out generation in complementary fashion to wind availability at a nearby FEG array. In combination with an FEG array, the combined output can be DISPATCHABLE power with as much as FOUR TIMES the capacity of the existing hydroelectric site.
Compressed Air Energy Storage(CAES) is another energy storage means presently coming into use. In special circumstances, where pumping compressed air into existing large caves or porous rock strata is feasible, it may well be especially economic. Commercial tanks built for the purpose may be the most economic storage means where short term energy storage is needed.
Whatever the energy storage means, it is especially interesting to note that at locations with a typical capacity factor of eighty percent for FEGs, only two sevenths the amount of energy storage is required to be stored where FEGs are supplying the power as is required with ground site wind turbines at sites having a thirty percent capacity factor.
At FEG array locations such as relatively near Chicago, Detroit and Toronto, with FEGs having about ninety percent capacity factors, just one seventh as much energy storage is required to make full time dispatchable power available, and without very long transmission lines being necessary.
Thus, far less energy storage, and therefore expense, is required to cover electrical needs when that electricity is obtained from high altitude winds.