ETS Interview: The Will the Real Transportation Fuel of the Future Step Forward

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For macro reasons, I think that the next generation liquid fuels may be cellulosic ethanol and biodiesel or renewable diesel from algae.  But those fuels will increasingly be sharing the roads with the long term transportation fuel of the future: electricity from renewable sources, especially wind.  Wind will be important for electric transportation and electric transportation will be important for wind because, when you’re already going to be charging batteries, you may as well do it when the electricity is cheap, which will be when the wind is blowing..  

Plug-in hybrid vehicles (PHEVs) neatly solve the main barrier to getting increasing amounts of wind on the grid: the  fact that it often blows in the middle of the night, when electricity demand is lowest (and when PHEVs would be charging), and wind solves one problem for the long term future of PHEVs: where do we get an abundant source of inexpensive electric generation for powering our vehicles?

What’s the missing link?  Batteries that are light, have a long recharge life, and can sustain a long series of quick, deep discharge cycles without significant degradation.  And don’t catch fire.  Combined with a better control system, and perhaps ultracapacitors.

In one sense, current battery shortcomings don’t matter: rising oil prices will make even today’s batteries practical as an alternative to $10 gasoline… we just don’t know when that $10 gas price will hit us.  When it does, more and more battery types will be practical in PHEVs.  A battery pack ready for a PHEV is a moving target… but this is one moving target that gets closer every time the oil price increases.

In the second installment of my Energy Tech Stocks interview with Bill Paul, he talks about my battery technology "picks" which aren’t so much as a representative cross section of the sector.  I’m currently working on differentiate the good with the bad; I just set up a phone conference with a couple of battery industry insiders so I can get their perspectives on which battery companies have well run research operations, as well as which companies will be able to deliver the volume of batteries we’re going to need as we shift our transportation system away from a reliance on liquid fuels and towards a greater reliance on electricity.

Watch this space for a more in-depth look into the advanced battery industry in a few weeks.

One other thing in Bill’s article: I don’t think GM "gets it" when it comes to peak oil.  That’s because of their continued insistence that E85 is a valid way to get from here to energy independence.  Earth to GM: there isn’t enough feedstock to make that much ethanol. Energy efficiency must come first.  Nice talk about the Volt, but I won’t believe it until you stop blathering about ethanol.

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