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“It’s the Batteries, Stupid”

George Shultz and James Woolsey, co-chairs of the Committee on the Present Danger, recently wrote and posted a policy paper— “Oil & Security”—on the Committee’s site.

The paper, which the authors had hoped would influence some of the Senate debate on the Energy bill, succinctly outlines the economic and political dangers of overdependence on oil, and then suggests three major policy initiatives the authors believe the government needs to take as soon as possible. (A hint from the paper: “It’s the Batteries, Stupid.”)

According to the authors, policies with respect to vehicular transportation should proceed along the following three paths:

  1. Encourage improved vehicle mileage, using technology now in production: Diesels and hybrids for powertrains, with lightweight carbon construction to reduce vehicular weight.
  2. Encourage the commercialization of cellulosic (biomass) ethanol, biodiesel and synthetic fuels that can be available soon, are compatible with existing infrastructure, and can be derived from waste or otherwise produced cheaply.
  3. Focus with high priority on plug-in hybrids and battery development.

Such development [plug-in hybrids and the battery technology to support them] should have the highest research and development priority because it promises to revolutionize transportation economics and to have a dramatic effect on the problems caused by oil dependence.

With a plug-in hybrid vehicle one has the advantage of an electric car, but not the disadvantage. Electric cars cannot be recharged if their batteries run down at some spot away from electric power. But since hybrids have tanks containing liquid fuel (gasoline and/or ethanol, diesel and/or biodiesel) plug-in hybrids have no such disadvantage.

Moreover the attractiveness to the consumer of being able to use electricity from overnight charging for a substantial share of the day’s driving is stunning...Given the burdensome cost imposed by current fuel prices on commuters and others who need to drive substantial distances, the possibility of powering one’s family vehicle with fuel that can cost as little as one-twentieth of today’s gasoline (in the U.S. market) should solve rapidly the question whether there would be public interest in and acceptability of plug-in hybrids.

The effects of these policies are multiplicative. All should be pursued since it is impossible to predict which will be fully successful or at what pace, even though all are today either beginning commercial production or are nearly to that point. The battery development for plug-in hybrids is of substantial importance and should for the time being replace the current R&D emphasis on automotive hydrogen fuel cells.

George Shultz is a former Secretary of State and is currently Distinguished Fellow at the Hoover Institution at Stanford. R. James Woolsey is a former Director of Central Intelligence and is currently Vice President of Booz/Allen Hamilton. The CPD itself has impeccable Reagan-era membership.

It was George Shultz who was one of the early major supporters of George Bush in his first run for the presidency.

So with advocates such as these—who presumably would have clout with the less demand-side focused members of Congress and the administration—behind fuel efficiency, plug-ins and a rational biofuel strategy, why can’t we get any traction?

Comments

Engineer-Poet

With these heavyweights on the side of good engineering, maybe the nation won't drop the ball again.

The Bush administration's reflexive dropping of hybrid programs and push for hydrogen vehicles appears to be a symptom of its connections to the oil industry.  If very much of the transport energy supply started coming from electricity, the refinery capacity constraints which support their pricing power would evaporate.  If substantial numbers of customers could switch large amounts of their demand to electricity, the value of oil reserves would fall, as would the value of companies in oil-services businesses (Halliburton).

The more I look at them, the more I see that the Bush administration's energy-related policies are designed to sell out the interests of the American people to benefit oil companies and producers; some of the latter are our sworn enemies.  If that's not treason, it's uncomfortably close.

wintermane

Uh Bush is pushing to double the insentive for buying a hybrid car I wouldnt call that dropping hybrids. The push now is to get alot of people buying them by making the cost difference minimal thus getting the benifits of mass production and further decreasing the cost difference.

As for hydrogen its making alot better progress then we frankly should have expected. Its got aways to go but its amazing whats been done in such a short amount of time. I wouldnt bet against it.

kobushi

There is no need for government sponsored push of hybrids, the private sector (thanks to push by the Japanese government with respect to Honda and Toyota) have taken care of that, everyone else is already playing catch-up. Hybrids are well on thier way to becomming an intermediate step in the oil issue, also look at Honda's goal to have an affordable fuel cell vehicle by 2020... honestly Honda has a clear advantae here, if they can't make them affodable sooner I don't think anyone else, government or private, can either.

In short:
Why use gov. to "push" Hybrid research when extremely effective hybrids are already here and fastly gaining favor? Just provide incentives.

Why not push for R&D of technology that isn't here yet, but which is probably the most viable long-term option?

Engineer-Poet
Bush is pushing to double the insentive for buying a hybrid car I wouldnt call that dropping hybrids.
Bush cancelled the PNGV just 4 years ago.  As a consequence, Ford is now buying hybrid hardware from Toyota.  Even after a report was issued last November which confirmed that hydrogen vehicles were likely 20 years away, Bush continued to tout hydrogen while failing to properly emphasize hybrids.
Why use gov. to "push" Hybrid research when extremely effective hybrids are already here and fastly gaining favor?
The crisis is on us now.  Have you noticed how few hybrid models there are?  Have you noticed how small a fraction of total sales they are?  How poorly-positioned the few US models are compared to customer demand?

The past four years was the time to get hybrids moving seriously.  Bush quite deliberately threw that time away, and now the USA is going to pay the price.  I only hope he's remembered as a sell-out to oil interests, because that's what he is.

stomv

I put far more blame on the GOP Congress than on Bush. Of course, Bush could have asked Congress for more, but the US House has been notorious for their oil and gas giveaways, and this year's energy bill is no different. The Senate bill, while not great, is far better. We'll see how they hash it out in committee.

Artie

Hydrogen fuel cell technology should be trashed. GM has no intention of mass producing any version of the 'skateboard chassis' fuel cell prototypes. Beyond the myriad of problems associated with hydrogen production, storage and distribution, GM's hydrogen prototype drive system, the so-called 'drive-by-wire', computerized, electronic steering, braking and accelleration is extremely problematic. And, their 'in-wheel' electric motors are likewise impractical, unreliable and maintenance-prone. Two words: Planned Obsolescence. The combination of wiz bang technologies is dangerously vulnerable to chance mishap and system failure from a variety of sources including radio interference.

The "Hybrid-drive" is 'the state of the art' vehicular technology with a long list of advantages over fuel cell, including the ability to burn a variety of fuels including Hydrogen and bio-diesel, all in perfected combustion. The hybrid battery-pack alone has features that extend zero-emission driving, and benefit the photovoltiac industry and home-power. Hybrids have major vehicular safety factors and are applicable to all classes of vehicle; unlike the fuel cell which is limited to the lightweight class.

We should however be warned that there are some new car and truck models that do not deserve the title Hybrid. If the Hybrid has an electric motor that can drive the car without running the IC engine, it's a true hybrid. If the Hybrid is merely an electric 'assist', such as the Honda models and 'contractor truck' models that incorporate an electric generator that only 'assists' the IC engine, these should not be considered Hybrids and do not deserve a tax break or price credit, though I'm sure they're specifically approved for them.

stomv

Artie:

I share some of your concerns RE "hybrids". Does a hybrid SUV getting 23 mpg deserve tax breaks, HOV lane access, etc. -- but a VW diesel getting 46 mpg not?

That being said, widespread hybrid adoption, even if those hybrids are engine-assist style, do push up the fleet MPG of the US, and they do help to make hybridization more cost effective, due to mass production, more research $$, etc.

Right now, hybrids are still so rare that I'm OK with all hybrids "getting the breaks." However, as hybrids become more commonplace, hopefully the legislature has the good sense to restrict which hybrids are eligible for added benefits, namely the ones which are more than mere cosmetic/engine-assist ones.

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