Ford Takes Hype-Free Stance on Hybrids and Electric Cars

It’s not a great way to generate buzz, but Ford Motor Co. is taking a common sense approach to building greener cars. In contrast to trying to build an eco-friendly “halo” car—or betting big on a single technology—Ford is preparing to weave a range of electric-drive and efficiency technologies into its mainstream global vehicle lineup.

John Viera, Ford's director of sustainability

John Viera, Ford’s director of sustainability, was in San Francisco yesterday to attend the Corporate EcoForum. (Photo: Brad Berman. All Rights Reserved.)

“It’s tough to communicate our philosophy versus focusing on one technology,” said John Viera, Ford’s director of sustainability and environmental policy, in an exclusive interview with “We feel that outside the communication and the hype, there is no silver bullet. There’s no fuel type or technology, including electric, that is the perfect solution. They’re either too expensive or they lack infrastructure and availability. They all have their warts.”

Ford is balancing its move to efficiency between advanced internal combustion technology, hybrids, plug-in hybrids, and electric cars. The company will launch its all-electric Transit Connect delivery truck later this year, followed by the Ford Focus Electric in 2011, a plug-in hybrid version of a small SUV (not necessarily the Escape) in 2012, and a pair of next-generation hybrids by 2013.

Ford is planning to build fewer than 10,000 all-electric vehicles in the next two years. Meanwhile, Nissan-Renault is planning to build as many as 500,000 pure electric cars globally by 2012. Could Ford fall behind if electric cars take the world by storm?

Guessing Game on Electric and Hybrid Volumes

“Rather than guessing if it’s going to happen or not, we’ve decided to take a common platform approach,” Viera said. Ford is going to build high-efficiency gas cars, hybrids, plug-in hybrids and electric cars all on the same high-volume global production lines, many of them using the Focus-sized C platform. Flexibility is the key.

Ford is working with its supply base so the company has the components to quickly ramp up volumes on electric vehicles, if necessary. “We don’t have to guess,” Viera said. “If electric vehicles take off, that’s fine. We’ll just manage our line. It’s not like we’re tied to a unique platform where you better get the volumes right.”

Ford’s sustainability efforts go beyond propulsion systems to the broadest possible strategies, from using less energy and water in manufacturing, to producing nearly zero waste in landfills and using bio-based materials rather than plastics in vehicle interiors.
Ford is also pushing compressed natural gas for fleets, and ethanol as a gasoline blend—although the company stops short at hydrogen fuel cell cars, which Viera believes is still in the research phase.

Mass Appeal

Ultimately, Ford’s strategy is about reaching a mass market. Viera said that an electric car’s limited driving range will put some limits on the type of customer who will buy. “If you had a plug-in hybrid as well as an EV, you are now able to bring in more customers. Some customers say they don’t want to plug their vehicle in at all. They want a hybrid. We’ve elected to participate in all of those segments. We may not be a leader in any one of those, but we’ll appeal to a broader range of customers.”

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  • kevin brady

    what an interesting approach. “we may not be a leader in any one of those”. they’re lack of committment to the future is simply scary to me. car makes keep saying they are just making what people want. lame excuse.

  • Cyparo

    It makes sense to diversify technologies because one technology or one type of vehicle doesn’t necessarily work for everyone. When Ford comes out with a plug in hybrid that can go at least 100 miles on the electric motor before the gas or preferrably diesel motor kicks in, they will definately get my money. The vehicle will also have to be able to carry all my toys (windsurf gear,bikes and related accessories,and camping gear.) A Focus all wheel drive wagon would probably fit the bill nicely. I would then have the option to put together a solar collector system to keep my vehicle charged up for free for at least 8 months a year. This could be a win/win situation on many different fronts.( jobs created, energy saved, carbon footprint and addiction to oil reduced, etc.)

  • JamesDavis

    After the Gulf oil spill and gas reaches $5.00 a gallon the hybrid will be getting the same complaints the total fossil fuel cars are getting now…too expensive to drive. “I can no longer afford to drive to work in that thing. I’m going to go and get me one of those Japan’s all electric.” If Ford was smart, they would have an all electric to fall back on when gas gets too high again for the average working person.

    Ford also needs to get a better design for their hybrid; the one they chose looks like a cross-eyed flattened puffball with a gaping catfish mouth. Come on Ford, people will be embarrassed to be seen walking by that ugly think. For surly you have a more attractive and affordable car than that?

  • Nelson Lu

    As usual, people bash Ford without, apparently, having found more about their products.

    As far as hybrids are concerned, the Fusion Hybrid gets significantly better mileage than the similarly-sized Camry Hybrid and Altima Hybrid. There is no way to attribute it except to the better engineering.

    As far as EVs are concerned, while Nissan will be debuting the Leaf, Ford will be (much more quietly) debuting the Transit Connect, and the Focus should be out next year. The fact that Nissan will be flashier with its product debut doesn’t mean that its product will be better or make greater impact.

  • Samie

    This article is full of contradictions!

    How can you manage production of say 50,000-100,000 EV’s when you estimate vendor (third party) parts at volumes of 10,000? You would end-up paying higher costs and create delays in your production line (assuming people will demand more than 10,000 EV’s from Ford).

    Many have short-term memories when it comes to offering a rainbow of technologies. Does anyone remember from the 90’s to mid 2000’s when GM offered or dreamed up competing technologies like the 2-mode, plug-in/2mode, serial hybrid, E85, flex, hydrogen, fuel cell, and other various competing technologies? That strategy promoted high marketing costs while selling low volumes, promotion of unrealistic concept vehicles, and undercut funding for real engineering development. Car companies need to tightly focus on 1-3 technologies, to scale them up, lower costs, and invest fully in engineering improvements. The industry will face consolidation and is experiencing tough times so offering 101 competing technologies is a joke and costs too much in this environment…..

    To say hype-free is a bit of a joke, b/c if anyone watched American Idol in the last few years Ford hyped up the Hybrid Fusion and Escape every chance they got. This also can be thought of as green washing in a carefully crafted PR strategy. Instead, Ford should be finding ways to ramp-up the Hybrid Fusion and Escape vehicles to cut pricing and compete closer in lines to the cost of a Prius.

    There is also another side to the low volumes of various competing technologies strategy, in that when a car company does this they may appease government regulators and politicians so to keep them at bay from passing unfavorable regulations like higher fuel efficiency standards, or certain technological mandates that can reduce sales volumes of inefficient luxury vehicles or cash-cow V8 SUVs.

  • Nelson Lu

    Why should Ford have to price a Fusion the same as a Prius when it is 1) larger, 2) more luxurious (unless you really option a Prius to the maximum, in which case it doesn’t cost less than a Fusion), 3) has more features and 4) has much greater power? It would be like arguing that Cadillac should have to price the CTS the same as a BMW 1-class.

  • ex-EV1 driver

    I don’t mind if Ford doesn’t hype their alternatives. I just hope they build some.
    The Ford Ranger EV was great (and hidden), the Escape Hybrid was and still remains basically hidden, and while they have advertised the Fusion hybrid a little, it hasn’t been particularly pushed.
    The Transit connect EV will be barely usable with maybe 40 miles of real-world range. It does share the Fusion chassis so maybe as a test platform, it will be useful.
    Its kind of hard to tell what Ford’s commitment to alternative propulsion really is but it is clear that they aren’t rushing into anything. I will likely put my money into the alternatives on an earlier schedule so it could be a decade or more before they see any of my money. By then, it had better be good and cheap.

  • simon@syd

    In Aus, Ford seems to be focussed on diesel. phhh.

  • Charles

    A summary of a few points from the above posts:
    1) Ford need to compete with the Prius. It would be nice, but at this time nobody competes with the Prius.
    2) The EV version of the Transit Connect is estimated at to have an 80 mile range. If you are going to cut Ford’s range in half, please do the same for the other EVs. This would make the Leaf’s range of 50 miles, what? Useful?
    3) The Focus EV should be out about a year after the Leaf, and before any other major auto company has a pure EV.
    4) As for plug in hybrids. It looks like Ford will be just behind the Chevy Volt and about tied with Toyota’s plug in Prius.

    So at this time Ford in number 2 (distant number 2) in hybrids. Should be number 2 in pure EVs within 2 years. Will be number 3 or maybe 2 in plug in hybrids in about 3 years. And a lot of you think this is a bad way to go. I really do not see where the problem is with have your platforms be flexible enough so that you can change the power train as customer demand dictates.

    One more thing, Ford has been limited in hybrid production by CV transmission supply. Ford and Toyota use the same manufacture for their hybrid transmissions. Toyota bought controlling interest in that company. Ford is now building a plant to build CV transmissions for their hybrids. That should allow Ford to produce more hybrids.

  • Mr.Bear

    Actually it sounds like Ford is going to adopt Honda’s approach with the Civic. Instead of all being hybrids, there will be hybrid, Plugin Hybrid, EV, and CNG versions.

    Not a bad approach, but more expensive to produce.

  • tracy

    I agree with you.

  • Fred Linn

    As usual, not even a single mention of biofuels. The entire discussion focused on electric vehicles, of which, there is not one single vehicle that is ready or able to go into production and meet the needs of the majority of drivers. Electric vehicles have been around for 170 years—and they do not have a mass market. The reason is simple, they do not meet the needs of what most drivers expect from their vehicles. And there is no new technology now, or even on the horizon that will change that fact.

    Biofuels on the other hand, can be used in vehicles that are versatile, powerful, can be produced using all our current manufacturing infrastructure, and use all of our current fuel distribution and service network. And they cost no more to produce and use than what we are using now.

    The Fiat Siena Tetrafuel can run indefinitely on petrolueum, a mix of petroleum and ethanol, 100% hydrous ethanol, and/or methane. The consumer has complete freedom to choose to use all petroleum, some petroleum, or no petroleum at all. It is in manufacture, on sale and in use on the road by consumers now in Brazil and Argentina. And has been for three years.

    Electric vehicles are a waste of time and resources.

  • ex-EV1 driver

    Unfortunately, Ford hasn’t provided much detail (hype?) about the Transit Connect. If you look at a lot of my posts, I do de-rate the stated for most EVs, based upon either experience or math. I strongly support EVs but am concerned that unrealistic expectations will cause disappointment in the future. I’d need to understand the driving cycle that Ford is using for any 80 mile claims or at least know what the battery pack capacity is (in kWhrs) in order to form a useful real-world estimate.
    I strongly support Ford and believe that, if they actually stay on the path they appear to be on, they could dominate the auto industry with their promised broad portfolio.

  • Dom

    simon@syd said “In Aus, Ford seems to be focussed on diesel. phhh.”

    Dude, you’re lucky. I WISH Ford would bring some of their diesel models to the US. The Fiesta (in Europe) with a diesel gets incredible fuel economy.

  • different Charles

    Try a bunch of different things. Figure out what works, what sells, what doesn’t. It’s different from other strategies, but just as valid strategy, and will provide a big boost to Ford’s knowledge base. It will allow them to pick the winner and drop more of a chosen powertrain without retooling.

    Biofuels are a bad joke. Land use is desperate enough without pouring food into our gas tanks.

    Hydrogen isn’t a solution. It’s an energy medium, not a source, and a mediocre one at that.

  • ex-EV1 driver

    Biofuels are great, however, if we tried to replace all of our petroleum usage with biofuels we’d quickly run out of fuel. If you look at the amount of acreage required to produce a particular amount of biofuel energy, the numbers just don’t add up.
    Bio-fuels definitely could play into a sustainable future, just not as the only solution.
    I see a petroleum-free, sustainable future for our planet in:
    – Wind, Solar, Geothermal energy for most personal transportation. Battery electric vehicles being the most likely means of using it.
    – Biofuels for uses where stored energy is essential such as shipping, farm, and rural construction use
    – Liquid Hydrogen (generated with Wind, Solar, Geo) for air transportation.
    There may be other energy sources and methods, however, assuming (ha ha) population doesn’t grow any more, the above would work.

  • ex-EV1 driver

    different Charles,
    I agree that all options should be left open.
    Hydrogen, like everything has its good and bad points.
    – Great specific energy (Whrs/kg)
    – Great energy density (Whrs/liter) but only if liquified
    – Easy to handle as gases go since lighter than air
    – Clean combustion (H2O is main byproduct)
    – Easy (albeit expensive) to synthesize
    – Expensive (takes a lot of energy) to make
    – Poor energy density (unless liquified)
    – Liquified takes a lot of energy to make and store
    – Hard to store (everything is porous to gaseous H2)
    – Not naturally available in nature in a useful form

  • Fred Linn

    exEV1 driver——you need to change your thinking.

    You are thinking in the 19th century.

    ——–” Biofuels are great, however, if we tried to replace all of our petroleum usage with biofuels we’d quickly run out of fuel. If you look at the amount of acreage required to produce a particular amount of biofuel energy, the numbers just don’t add up.”——–

    You are thinking in linear model concepts—shovel raw material out of the earth—use up the energy–throw the waste in a pile—go shovel more out. Your idea is based on this flawed model. It is the model that petroleum companies use to produce their product.

    This is not how nature and biofuels work. Natural systems work on a circular cycle. Take the example of ethanol produced from sugar cane in Brazil. “It takes more energy from petroleum to produce crops than you get back.” No, not if you do not use petroleum. Use biofuels to run your machinery and processing. In the case of sugar cane, bagasse, all the non juice part of the cane is dried and burned to produce electricity to produce the ethanol. Excess electricity is fed into the grid. For every 4 gallons of ethanol produced, the equivalent of one gallon is fed into the grid as electricity. The ash left after the electrical generation is returned to field. It replaces fertilizer produced with natural gas or petroleum. The whole system works in a circular cycle to feed itself, and becomes self sustaining. What is used up, becomes the raw material to produce more.

    The same is true of corn. We can use it the same way. Humans can not eat dent corn. It is used to produce high protein animal feed, DDG. Ethanol is a by product of DDG production. Stover, all non-grain parts of the corn plant can be pelletized and used directly to produce energy—burn biomass instead of coal. The ashes can be returned to the field. Feed the DDG to animals, and you get food(meat and dairy products) and poop. Put the poop in an anaerobic digester and you get methane, clean water, and compost. Return the compost to the fields and you get fertilizer.

    You get biofuels(stored solar energy)—electricity—natural gas(methane) and fertilizer. And you can keep doing it over and over in an endless cycle.

    We can even make methane from the human sewage after the food has been eaten and the energy contained in it keeps YOU alive as well. Then you can drive your vehicle on the poop from yesterday’s breakfast of bacon, eggs and milk.(all products that would be derived from DDG feed supplement)

    This is just a broad overview of how biofuels work—-to get down to the exact energy paths would require a book that I can’t write here. But, the basic thing about biofuels, all are stored energy from the sun, and the cycle can be repeated over and over continously and indefinitely—no batteries required.

  • veek

    I appreciate Ford’s honesty and realism on these issues. They do not appear eager to take a huge risk on a technology that may not work as well as anticipated.

    Ex-EV1 driver: Germany appears to be growing a substantial portion of their passenger car diesel with canola oil, and this seems to be working nicely for them (biodiesel appears less problematic than US corn-based ethanol, although Germany has adequate water resources).

  • Benni

    OK then Kevin Brady, what say we start a car company and make what people don’t want. Duh!

  • Samie

    Charles if you thought I meant that the Hybrid Fusion should be priced at the same point as a Prius, I would never expect that. All I was saying is that Ford should find ways to try to reduce the prices of the Hybrid Fusion and Escape. Toyota reduced the selling price of the Prius, why can’t Ford? Example for 25-26K (base price) you could “upgrade” to a Hybrid Fusion. This is what I meant when I said closer to Prius pricing.

    Fred Linn maybe you should change your thinking about biofuels. Biofuels are fuels, just as petroleum is. Will different biofuels increase the efficiency of the engine? What about technological improvements? Biofuels will be imported, or do you want massive tariffs to protect from problems that will happen with importing biofuel to the U.S. If you stop countries exporting biofuels to the U.S. you are stuck with inflated prices that will need massive taxpayer subsides to compete with the efficiencies of petroleum. Also, how much biofuel can we really support? Additionally, does biofuels support independent fueling? The whole point of this is to get people to look at why replacing fuels with fuels actually creates the same types of problems that so many blame petroleum for.

    Back to this article I still believe you can’t offer 101 different technologies and expect enough money for development of all things great. Car companies need direction and clear marketing strategies not more of the old tricks were marketing and hype is the standard.

  • Fred Linn

    samie—–” Will different biofuels increase the efficiency of the engine? “——–

    Yes. The compression ratio is what governs the efficiency of internal combustion engines. The octane rating is the measure of the resistance to pre-ignition, knock. Knock will destroy an engine when the fuel ignites too soon. The octane of regular gasoline is 85-87—therefore, the highest compression ratio using regular gasoline is about 9:1. The octane rating of ethanol is 110-115. The usage compression ratio with ethanol is about 24:1. This gives greatly increased power and mileage by increasing thermal efficiency. Thermal efficiency(the work you get out at the wheels/BTU energy used) of a gasoline engine is about 20%. An engine running on ethanol can more that double that, 45%. Scania is doing that with a fleet of over 1,000 buses in Sweden and UK right now.

    We’ve been doing it for over 40 years—all the racers in the Indianapolis 500 use 100% ethanol. They have 3L V-8s, smaller than the engines of most cars on the road today. Yet, they produce in the range of 1200-1600 hp.—about the same amount of power produced by 4, 18 wheel diesel rigs. You could not even come close to matching that sort of power output using gasoline.

    ——–” Biofuels will be imported, or do you want massive tariffs to protect from problems that will happen with importing biofuel to the U.S. If you stop countries exporting biofuels to the U.S. you are stuck with inflated prices that will need massive taxpayer subsides to compete with the efficiencies of petroleum”——–

    Biofuels are made here, by workers and farmers who live here. The US is the largest exporter of ethanol in the world.

    The US has to import roughly 75% of the oil it uses. What we need is import tariffs on petroleum—-importing petroleum is destroying the US economy. Oil prices were a major precipitating factor of the worst economic crisis the US has had since the Great Depression. Imported oil is still a major hindrence to full economic recovery. Petroleum is not efficient at all, you have to get your fuel from the middle east or arctic just to drive to the local convenience store—not very convenient.

    ——” Also, how much biofuel can we really support?”——

    As much as we need, and most of the rest of the world too. The entire fuel consumption of the US in a year, represents about 6 minutes worth of the sunlight energy captured by plant life in the US alone.

    ——” Additionally, does biofuels support independent fueling? “—-

    I don’t really understand your question. Ethanol and biodiesel are liquids—they are handled pretty much the same as petroleum fuels. They can even be mixed with petroleum in any proportion.
    Methane is a gas so that it is handled differently. It is compressed and stored in pressure tanks. Natural gas and biomethane are the same stuff, CH4. It can be mixed in any proportion with no loss of performance. There are even home compressor units available so that natural gas vehicles can be fueled from home through an existing natural gas connection.

    Any gasoline engine can run on up to 30% gasoline/ethanol mixture. In Brazil, the only gas you can buy is 25% ethanol. In many European countries, the only gas available is 20% ehtanol—it has been that way for over 70 years, going back to the 1930s .

  • Mr.Bear

    Maybe I’m crazy here, but I don’t think Ford makes biofuels, so it really doesn’t make a lot of sense for Ford to spend much time talking about them.

    All other pro and con biofuel arguements asside, at most all Ford could do is build cars that are E85 compatible. And what do you know, Ford is currently producing seven E85 vehicles, including the Ford Fusion.

  • tyre equipment

    2011 and 2012 are promising years for auto industry as currently they are having plans in advance.I think Ford will still be on top because they have a quality product and always introduce new improvements.The growing number of electric vehicles is good to hear because it means a more helpful conservation of our environment.

  • ex-EV1 driver

    Fred Linn,
    I’m not arguing about the chemical/biological issues in bio-fuel production. I’m concerned about the land usage.
    Note that I didn’t bring up the energy-in -vs- energy-out arguments against bio-fuels, particularly ethanol but you defended against that argument.
    Clearly, you’ve done your biology homework but you’re missing the math. How much land does it take (using your ultra efficient farming techniques) to grow enough bio feedstock to produce the equivalent of a gallon of gasoline? Now multiply that number by the number of gallons of diesel and gasoline that we burn today. Do we have that much land available? I’ll let you use your own numbers.
    You might also look at the water usage required and its availability.
    I agree that Bio-fuels work. Its just that I’m not convinced our planet can provide as much as our society demands. Other alternatives actually look like they can sustain our lifestyle.

    Europe is also getting a lot of their bio-diesel from clearcutting virgin palm forests in southeast Asia. This isn’t particularly sustainable. I can’t claim to have too many details on this though. EVs clearly can work and I focus my research and personal energies on this solution, not tracking down every oil producing plant being used.

  • veek

    ex-EV1 Driver: Yes, you are right with the observation that European biodiesel includes some non-sustainable sources (their consumption of SE Asian trees is probably dwarfed by that of China). No fuel source — even solar — is taint-free, and no energy source is without a price. Sort of like the cartoon with the fellow munching a huge bag of corn chips while fueling his gas-guzzler with ethanol, reading the headline about the price of corn-related products going up because of the demand, and then the heading, “tough decisions ahead.”

    Still, we should be thankful that energy sources have helped give us all the advantages and choices that we have in today’s society (and not just our American lifestyle). We’ll have some tough choices to make but at least for now we have the luxury of being able to sort things out. Hopefully reducing our collective greed will be a part of the solution, and that’s not a bad price to pay!

  • ex-EV1 driver

    I’m right with you. While no energy source is completely painless, some (such as solar, wind, and actually oil and coal) are sort of like a painful punch in the arm while others (like most biofuels and draconic reduction in energy consumption) are more like an amputation that leaves you in pain and without some limbs afterward.
    We need to look at the big picture as well as the minute details of any energy source as we decide where to invest our time and money.
    Electrification of transportation is a way to use solar, wind, or whatever energy source (including bio-fuels) ends up being the least painful. ICE require the use of some sort of fluid fuel of particular consistency. This places extreme limitations on the kinds of energy source that can be effectively used.

  • Samie

    ex-EV1 driver your example of deforesting areas in southeast Asia proves my point. The biofuel form Asia comes in to Europe at a lower price but if you create the tariffs needed to block most imports you have a hard time expanding the market and competing with petroleum on price unless you create massive taxpayer subsidies. Unless algae production actually finalizes I don’t see the economics in converting from one fuel to another for the sake of short-term thinking.

    If we talk about crops for fuels, there is another uncertainty, in that fungi, bacteria, insect pests, droughts, and floods can create great fluctuations in the price of biofuels. In the United States the only way to expand ethanol beyond replacing food crops is to open up voluntary wildlife conservation areas. Beyond purifying water, erosion control, flood control, and plant and animal diversity, many of these areas support hunting and fishing opportunities so that diverse groups of people can come together and understanding why conservation efforts are so important.

  • Fred Linn

    The reason for making ethanol in the first place was to produce DDG. Field corn, fed to animals is dent corn—humans can not eat dent corn. Dent corn contains about 2-4% protein, when fermented the remaining yeast culture contains about 25-30% protein; and still contains a significant amount of energy because the yeast shut down and sporify when they reach about 20% alcolhol content. Many people say that this is inefficient—-but that is the old 19th century linear thinking—-nature does not work in straight lines, to follow natural pathways, think circular. We take the ethanol off and we can use the DDG to feed animals—if we don’t take the ethanol off, we’d have herds of drunk cattle and pigs. When we use DDG to feed livestock, we are replacing soy meal. DDG is cheaper than soy meal to use because you can grow about 3 times as much corn on an acre of land as you can soy. When we grow corn and make ethanol, we use about 1/3 of the land to produce the same amount of protein that we would if we used the old choice of using soy meal. DDG is also used to produce human products such as high vitamin and protein supplements and baked goods high in protein.
    So, you tell me, if we make ethanol from corn, and use the ethanol in our vehicles, and we use only 1/3 the area of land to produce the same amount of protein that we currently are—-and we are producing high value food products at the same time(meat, eggs, dairy products vs. junk food)——how soon will it be before we run out of land and people starve to death? Answer, a VERY long time.

    The grain represents about 10% or less of total energy stored in the corn plant. That means that over 90% of the energy is left in the fields in the form of stover—all the non grain parts of the plant. If we harvest the stover as well, it can be pelletized and used directly(biomass) or piled up and composted to produce methane. Methane is also a biofuel—the same CH4 as in natural gas. We can use methane in our vehicles as well. And the remaining compost can be spread on the fields—-it is the best fertilizer you can get, a very valuable product. Check out the price of “potting soil”—-compost in bags for gardeners. Do that and we drive our vehicles on methane, and have no need for artificial fertilizers made from petroleum, that run off and cause problems in streams, rivers, lakes and the sea.

    If all drivers have vehicles like the Fiat Siena Tetrafuel, and can use petroleum, ethanol, or methane seamlessly in combination or any one independently—-we have a supply system that is able to use whatever fuel is available. Just like in nature—the most successful and widespread species are those that can use a variety of energy sources—-eat a variety of foods. We should model our industrial systems the same way.

    New Fiat Siena Tetrafuel Runs on Everything

  • Simple

    with headlines like “Ethanol fuels food price frenzy”, this is why ethanol is a bad idea… we seen it before. it can and will happen again:

  • Fred Linn

    Then make ethanol from something else. We can use anything. Even wood.

    If you don’t want to use ethanol, the Fiat Siena Tetrafuel can also run on methane. Methane is produced naturally when we treat sewage. We have to treat sewage anyway.

    How much sawdust and sewage do you eat?

    Nobody is going to starve to death.

  • ex-EV1 driver

    @Fred Linn,
    I don’t buy your circular -vs- linear thinking argument except that circular arguments usually end up using circular logic which sounds good but doesn’t really work.
    Now, given all of your arguments that the ethanol is a byproduct of feed corn production, I still ask you the key questions:
    How many gallons of ethanol can be produced on an acre of land?
    Along with this is: how much water, fertilizer, and other external energy is required to produce a gallon of ethanol? I’ll also include this external energy in the overall sustainability determination for ethanol.

  • Fred Linn

    —–” How many gallons of ethanol can be produced on an acre of land?”—–

    Currently, our yields are about 160 bushels/acre. That is 8960 lbs.

    Ehtanol production is 3250 lbs. per acre, that equals 432 gallons.

    DDG production is 5710 lbs/acre = 2.85 tons.

    Biomass production is about 4.5 tons. @ 14.6 M/BTU per ton

    What is left after you burn biomass is ash and char. Ash and char are fertilizer. Nature has used it for hundreds of millions of years to clear out dead plant life and renew the soil.

    After we feed the DDG to cattle or other live stock, we need to treat the run off from feeder lots and dairy operations. We need to do that if you want to have clean water. Methane is produced whether we capture it or not. We might as well capture it. We can also run our vehicles on methane.

    Biomethane is the same methane that is in fossil natural gas–CH4. It can be mixed in any proportion with no loss of performance. We can mix biomethane with fossil methane to achieve any amount we wish.

    Whether you believe in global warming or not is immaterial. I happen to believe it because everywhere I look in this world I see clear evidence of warming. CO2 is a greenhouse gas(GHG)—it absorbs infrared radiation energy, and converts it to heat in the atmosphere. But CO2 not the only GHG—methane is also a GHG. And methane has 17X the infrared capture and heat conversion factor that CO2 does. When we mix biomethane, and fossil methane, this means that we are in effect converting high GHG effect methane, to relatively low GHG effect CO2. Just a 6% mixture of biomethane will produce a neutral atmospheric warming effect compared to doing nothing. Any mixture above 6% will have a negative effect on atmospheric warming. There is no other way to do this.

    We can use both ethanol, and methane to power our vehicles. In the same vehicle. In fact, the Fiat Siena Tetrafuel can use all three, petroleum, petroleum and ethanol mixes, ethanol straight, or methane.

    The fallacy is linear thinking. Nothing in nature works in a linear–in out–all or nothing manner. In nature, nothing is left unused, and nothing is wasted.

    And we have thousands of sources of ethanol at our disposal besides corn. We’ve been able to make methanol from wood for over 5,000 years—the ancient Egyptians used it in their mummification process. We’ve been able to make ethanol from wood over 120 years using the Scholler process—there were several plants producing ethanol on a commercial scale in both the US and Germany before WW1.

    Besides corn, ethanol can be made from any type of grain at all, including sorghum and milo. Ethanol can be produced from sugar cane. Sugar beets will grow anywhere in the US from Florida to Alaska where there is adequate water, and has similar productivity to sugar cane.

  • Fred Linn

    BTW—sugar from beets can easily be used in any corn processing plant to produce ethanol—you simply do not need the milling and fermentation steps you need with grain. The fermentation and distillation steps are the same. Sugar beets produce about 8X the amount of ethanol/acre that corn does—-we do not however get the DDG from using sugar beets. That is why corn is used—it costs about 1/2 to produce than the soy meal it replaces/and uses 1/3 the land to produce an equal amount of protein.

    If you want to pass a law that says everyone has to be a strict vegan and eat NO meat or animal products at all like eggs or dairy products—-it would make more economic sense to produce ethanol from sugar beets.

  • Anonymous

    there is a reason why sugar canes are not favored in the US which has something to do with climate in the US. brazil on the other hand is more suited for sugar canes but even that has its price through deforestation of the amazons.

    furthermore, @ “Ehtanol production is 3250 lbs. per acre, that equals 432 gallons.”

    to put things in perspective rather than just throwing numbers around, let’s say somehow an average fuel efficiency of 40 mpg is achieved (CAFE 2020 target is only 35 mpg). there were an estimated 254.4 million registered passenger vehicles in the United States according to a 2007 DOT study (wikipedia). assume an average vehicle is driven 12,000 miles per year, which would require 300 US gal per year per veh. multiply that by 254.4 mil cars, that is 76.32 billion gal of gas per year. divide that by 432 gal, that would need 176.6 million acres (or ~276 k sq miles). That’s about the size of Texas just to supply current fuel demands! (keep in mind this does not include the fuel required to harvest the product, which would likely expand the field area significantly)

    some hard questions to ask ourselves: what happens when we can’t achieve 40 mpg? where is all that additional resources (e.g. water, fertilizer, pesticides, lands, etc) coming from? where in the US can this growth be sustained? how can the additional pollutions from the farms be controlled? what will happens when there is a bad harvest season? how does this affect food prices (competition on what farmers grow)? how long will subsidies need to be maintained? what is the carbon impact?

    is it possible? maybe. is it practical as the main source? i’m not convinced yet…

  • Fred Linn

    Why do you want to hide as Anonymous to address me? I put my name out there for everyone to see, for a reason.

    Everything I say is true and easily verifiable. I make direct statements.

    Let’s take your objections. I won’t bother to check your figures or math—it does not matter.

    anon.——–” …….that would need 176.6 million acres (or ~276 k sq miles).”——– the land area of the US is 3,790,000 square miles—

    276,000 sq. miles = 7.2% of the land area of the US. If you live in a 2500 sq. ft. house–that would represent 180 sq. ft., about the size of a small bedroom—–not a bad trade off for a house that required no outside energy.

    There is no law that says we have to get our ethanol from corn. We have thousands of choices available. Brazil produces enough ethanol from sugar cane to produce 50% of their transportation needs, a significant portion of their electrical generation needs, and still be the second largest ethanol exporter in the world. And they do that by using only 2% of their available cropland. What are they using the other 98% of deforested land for?

    anon.——-” there is a reason why sugar canes are not favored in the US which has something to do with climate in the US”——-

    That will come as a great surprise to sugar cane farmers who successfully raise sugar cane in Louisana, Alabama, Mississippi, Florida, South Carolina, Texas, Georgia, North Carolina, California, Hawaii and Puerto Rico. Not to mention Cuba—just 90 miles from Florida.

    Sugar beets grow anywhere in the US from Florida to Alaska where there is sufficient water. Sugar beets have similar productivity to sugar cane.

    Take a look at some pictures of WW2. At the beginning of WW2 the US faced a critical shortage of natural rubber because the threat of German and Japanese submarines disrupted the shipping needed to get it here. The US turned to butadeine, artificial rubber, made with ethanol. Ethanol made from wood logging and millwork waste in a plant in Wisconsin. All the rubber parts you see on all those ships, airplanes, tanks, trucks, jeeps and everything else were made from wood. Made from ethanol that started out at trees in Wisconsin.

    And we haven’t even talked about methane here.

    We have the capacity to produce all the energy we will ever need with biofuels and renewable energy.

    And we have had the capacity to use that energy all along.

    Ethanol is over 2X more efficient than gasoline. All the race cars in the Indianapolis 500 run on 100% Ethanol. And they have run on alcohol base fuels for over 40 years. The fastest, most advanced race cars in the world run on 100% ethanol.

  • Anonymous

    “I won’t bother to check your figures or math—it does not matter.”

    yes, let’s not look at math or reality because everything works because you say so

  • Fred Linn

    Anonymous——how about we call a truce, I will treat you to a tall, cold, barley malt ethanol.

  • Doug Smallman

    Fred Linn and Anonymous both have valid arguments. However the obvious answer is to create multi-fuel power stations that can use any preferred/available fuels. The power thus generated could be used far more efficiently and conveniently by electric vehicles.
    I am convinced that battery development will advance to the point of rendering ICE technology completely redundant if allowed to do so.
    As an aside I am sure that it would surprise you in the USA that in Southern Africa we made major advances in alternative fuels over 40 years ago thanks to your sanctions!

  • Benjamin R

    My view is we should be concentrating on plug in hybrids with a driving range of 60 miles at 60mph. If we can have 60% of the cars power run from 30% biofuel, and 40% of its overall power use from 30% renewable electric, and a doubling of efficiency in terms of mpg (dual constant throttle generators running a series plug-in hybrid, i.e. all electric drive spring to mind), we will have effectively reduced our petrol/diesel consumption by a whopping 60%. If those engines are more efficient than standard engines then this figure rises again.

    Land has different uses, poor infertile land in sunny areas are ideal for concentrated solar farms, or solar updraft towers. Rich fertile lands are often wet and windy, so we can raise livestock and get some wind energy. If some birds get killed by the turbine blades or neighbours get annoyed by the noise, well tough, I want humans on earth in 100 years time and I think thats more important.

    We see so many charged vehicles and hybrid vehicles but few which match the target market which is a rechargeable hybrid with a reasonable electric only range. Yes there are those who drive several miles every day but the vast majority of us drive 10 to 80 miles max, for which a plugin rechargeable hybrid would do the job just fine.

    Europe and the US, in fact the entire world needs to act quickly to standardize the charge plug, voltage and currents to enable manufacturers of cars and domestic/commercial charge stations to invest. We won’t see charge stations at your supermarket or high-rise car park until standards are met and car manufacturers are producing hybrid cars with a rechargeable capability.

    How do we get consumer to buy more environmentally friendly cars?
    – Tax fossil fuels and subsidise green electricity
    – Tax gas guzzlers and subsidise very efficient vehicles through annual road fees
    – Give incentives to eco-friendly cars such as free tolls, free or near parking (like mum’s and disabled spaces at supermarkets), use of bus lanes, rebates on taxes, subsidised car testing (MOT in the UK).
    – Raise market awareness

    Once there is a sufficient density of plug-in hybrids whos drivers want to charge up their car at the supermarket, on the roadside parking or in multistory car parks, there will be money to be made by those companies wanting to sell you auto-electric. Markets drive investment, not political gestures or well-to-do-ness.

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