Solar Globetrotting

July 17, 2012

Image:  Solar Impulse

These days it seems that no one can resist showing off their fancy new alternative fuel vehicle. I posted a little while ago about an electric car race around the world.  Now it seems we have a similar situation, only this time via solar airplane.

The team attempting this feat is Solar Impulse. Flow first covered their adventures in April 2010, when they took the plane for a test drive. Their plans back then for an around the world journey in 2012 are still on track. So far their solar plane has been the first to complete an intercontinental flight.  With this prototype’s success they are designing a new plane to circle the globe. These planes run day and night powered solely by the sun.  It really is a marvel of modern technology, and something that should by followed by any solar fan, or any fan of technology for that matter.

I first found this story through National Geographic, which has an excellent selection of pictures from the missions, and some brief information. For a more in depth look at the project, including some amazing pictures and even video from the flight deck, check out the Solar Impulse website.

There’s an App

June 28, 2012

Shell Motorist is a nice little driving companion app available for free in North America on the iPhone and Android markets.  The app is very easy to use and includes a one-touch ‘Nearest Shell Station’ button.

The app features a route planner, which shows Shell stations along your desired path.  Each of these stations, from the locator and the route planner, can be filtered based on what type of fuel you need, and what other services are available

There is also a ‘Vehicle Reminders’ section available, which helps to calculate cost when planning a route. As a Bonus, it let me pretend I drove a Rolls Royce Phantom, which succeeded in boosting my ego slightly.

My only complaint with the app is that the ‘Highlights’ were a little out of date.  I’m not really looking for winter driving tips at the moment.

If you’re a Shell customer, or just need a simple app to find a nearby gas station, give Shell Motorist a try.

If you’re a regular to another gas station, there are similar apps available for Esso, Chevron, and Petro-Canada.

Un-Greased Lightning

June 19, 2012

On my latest trip to Chinook Centre I noticed a large crowd gathering around a fancy new show car.  Although I was scrambling to make the movie (Prometheus) I was already late for, I managed to catch a glimpse of the Model S from Tesla Motors.

Image:  Tesla Motors

As I rushed by, I noticed several Tesla attendants trying to answer the crowd’s many questions.  The immediate feel I got from the showcase was that it was an informative exhibit about a new electric car.

To me, this fit my vision of the electric car.  A group of well-informed individuals dispensing information about the environmental, and technological aspects of the car.  Since I wasn’t able to stop and ask a few questions of my own,  I decided to look up Tesla Motors later.  Online I was treated to a much different vision of the electric car.

Tesla’s homepage featured some dynamic pictures of the vehicles, included an image of a Tesla poised behind the finish line.  When I navigated to About Tesla the image of a sports car took me by surprise.  What I saw didn’t fit with my idea of the electric car, which is what makes it especially interesting.

I always picture an electric car being marketed based on the environmental benefits.  I imagine a man in a lab coat directing my attention to a graph detailing the vehicle’s advantages versus a gas-powered car, or hybrid.  What I don’t imagine is a sports car screaming across the finish line. In any case, after seeing the car in-person, and online, I definitely wouldn’t mind a test-drive.

Tesla is offering up the Model S on its Get Amped tour this summer.  If you are an North American Reservation Holder and you’d like to try your hand behind the wheel, check out if Tesla is coming to a city near you.

Month in a Car

May 11, 2012

Evergreen Canada is one of the groups behind the upcoming Toronto Transportation Expo. They have put out a casting call for someone to spend a month in car.

How hard could that be? And why a month you ask? Organizers have determined that the average Torontonian spends that much time commuting to and from work every year. Interested in the gig? Send them 250 words or less about yourself and your thoughts on sustainable living with a one minute video to puts a face to your name. This is Toronto-based – you need to be a current commuter in that city to have this all make sense of course. So if you are up for living in a car for 24 hours a day for 4 weeks – with breaks – this might be the perfect summer gig for you.

Visit their Facebook page or month in a car for more information.

A rare opportunity: electric vehicles with no rare earth materials

July 28, 2011

We all want to be able to drive without belching greenhouse gas emissions into the atmosphere. And we want our cars to run cleanly too.

One of the largest drawbacks of many forms of modern emission-free power, though, is our need to mine rare earth elements to make components like batteries and magnets. These 17 metals aren’t “rare” in the sense that they’re uncommon (they’re actually very common in the Earth’s crust), but rather because they’re distributed unevenly around the world, and each site doesn’t necessarily contain much of the material. So in addition to the environmental impacts of mining these materials, there is a concern: China currently dominates the global marketplace for rare earth metals (producing a whopping 95 per cent) and has already demonstrated its willingness to cut rare earth exports.

So it’s no surprise that Japanese researchers, living in a country that already relies heavily on imported metals, have developed an EV (electric vehicle) motor that can operate without any rare earth metals. Developed at the Tokyo University of Science by Associate Professor Nobukazu Hoshi and his team, the EV uses a “Switched Reluctance Motor,” which uses the difference in magnetic resistance to create an electric charge. And with the economic and environmental drawbacks of rare earth metal use, it’s likely that more such vehicles will be produced in the coming years.

Making cars without the use of rare earth metals isn’t just an area of concern for vehicles, though. Last year, IBM also innovated a solar cell, 40 per cent more efficient than similar cells, that did not use rare earth materials.


Video: Electric Car Driven by Rare Earth Metal-Free Motor

You Think Canadian Gasoline Prices Are High?

May 19, 2011

Well, actually they are compared to what we’re used to paying, but compared to the rest of the world our gasoline is a bargain. And the reason isn’t that gasoline by itself is so expensive, it’s the taxes other countries put on gasoline. In fact throughout Europe, gasoline prices including tax are more than double the prices excluding tax.

On May 2, prices for gasoline excluding taxes ranged from a low of $0.95 per litre in the U.S. to a high of $1.02 in Italy. Taxes in the U.S. and Canada were $0.10 per litre and $0.39 per litre respectively, while taxes in Europe ranges from $0.88 in the U.K. to $1.40 in the Netherlands.

Where Does Your Gasoline Dollar Go?

May 17, 2011

There are three major components to gasoline pricing: crude costs, marketing and refining margins and taxes. And they vary according to world demand for, and supply, of oil; North American demand for, and supply of, gasoline; and where you live in Canada.

In 2009, when Canadian Par crude oil averaged $65.19 per barrel, crude costs accounted for 43.7 per cent of the cost of gasoline, taxes accounted for 33.2 per cent and refining and marketing accounted for 23 per cent. As oil prices rose in 2010, crude costs accounted for 47.3 per cent of the cost of gasoline, taxes for 33 per cent and refining and marketing 19.7 per cent. Thus far in 2011, Canadian Par prices have averaged $95.40 per barrel, and crude costs have risen to 49 per cent of the cost of gasoline, taxes for 30.8 per cent and marketing and refining 20.2 per cent.

The reason taxes have fallen as a percentage is that most of the tax is a fixed amount per litre. For example, the federal excise tax in gasoline is a flat 10 cents per litre, no matter the total pump price. The same is true for some provincial taxes.

Most of the regional differences in price are due to taxes varying from province to province and at time from city to city. In Edmonton, as in all of Alberta, there is no provincial sales tax. In cities such as Montreal, Vancouver and Victoria, there are municipal taxes and in Vancouver, there is a carbon tax.

More Speculation on Gasoline Prices

May 16, 2011

You know gasoline prices must be getting out of hand when the federal government promises to “look into it”. But don’t hold your breath. The government has investigated collusion in gasoline pricing six times since 1990 and has found no evidence to support it.

But it’s not only that gasoline prices are high, it’s that over the past week prices have fluctuated as much as 4.5 cents over night. And to many people, that just doesn’t make sense.

We all understand that gasoline prices are heavily influenced by crude oil prices, as shown in the graph below. And we’ve all been told that oil prices are at near record levels because of political instability in the Middle East and North Africa.


We’ve also been told that recent flooding on the Mississippi River in Tennessee has caused refineries in that area to shut down, causing gasoline shortages.

But a closer examination of the unrest in the Middle East and North Africa reveals that the countries where the protests are occurring export about 1.9 million barrels of oil per day, or about 11 per cent of the region’s total, an amount that Saudi Arabia can more than accommodate merely by opening the taps a quarter of a turn.

And according to Reuters, there are concerns that refineries may have to shut down, but as of Thursday, May 12, none have done so.

One has to wonder what is really behind the price increases. And one has to really wonder hard about paying $1.32 per litre Monday and $1.36 per litre Tuesday when Tuesday’s gas was in the service station’s storage tank on Monday with Monday’s gas.

The government’s investigation will probably take several months. Meanwhile, there’s plenty of time for speculation.

Energy BOT Squad’s Newest Member

April 9, 2011

This week’s BOT knows a little something about the need for speed — FuelcellBOT can power up a vehicle using chemical electrolytes that produce electricity… for maximum driving power! And when that fuel’s hydrogen, there’s an added benefit — FuelcellBOT emits nothing but water. You don’t get much better than clean speed.

In Canada, though, FuelcellBOT’s mostly been riding transit, particularly the hydrogen-fuelled buses of British Columbia’s Hydrogen Highway. While hydrogen fuel cell vehicles have been introduced by several major car companies, fuel cells are still mostly used as demonstration technologies, rather than being widely distributed.

Companies like those represented by the Canadian Hydrogen and Fuel Cell Association, though, are trying to change that lack of market development. They note that as the materials needed to construct fuel cells improve, their cost will decrease to a more economical level.

And it’s not just vehicles that could use these fuel cells either. In fact, fuel cells are already being used largely as mobile and stationary power sources across the country, with generators like the Bloom Blox. The Canadian Hydrogen and Fuel Cell Association even provides a guide entitled Permitting Hydrogen and Fuel Cell Installations in Canada (2.0 MB PDF) (though at 71 pages it’s hardly light reading).

So even if FuelcellBOT does feel the need for speed right now, she’s going to have plenty of opportunities in the future to burn as much rubber as she wants (even if fuel cells don’t actually burn any fuel anyway).

Survey Says

March 21, 2011

A recent survey by IBM’s Institute for Business Value asked 1,716 U.S. drivers what would motivate them to switch from using a gasoline, diesel or hybrid vehicle to an electric-only vehicle. They also asked 123 auto industry executives to rate the importance consumers place on each choice.

The results are summarized as follows:

Drivers Executives
Innovative pricing models or lower price overall 71% 81%
Extended reach or range of the vehicles 64% 63%
Convenience of usage or services 63% 60%
Availability of charging infrastructure 62% 65%
Significantly higher oil prices 51% 76%
Green image or sustainability concerns 48% 33%
Government incentives or regulations 41% 73%
Traffic congestion 26% 11%

Although it’s surprising that, for the most part, consumers and auto execs are on the same page, what’s more surprising is that fewer than half the drivers were motivated by greenness and sustainability.

Isn’t that the whole point of electric-only vehicles? No emissions? Cleaner air? Other than that, what is the attraction to vehicles that are more expensive than their conventional counterparts, have smaller ranges and need expensive home renovations to convert garages and carports into recharging stations?

For one thing, operating costs are lower because electric vehicles are mechanically simpler and electricity is cheaper and more efficient that gasoline, but op costs weren’t even mentioned in the survey results. Hopefully, all the respondents were motivated by environmental concerns, but only 48 per cent said so.

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