The Flipping Point
Humankind is very close to the technology we need to make a flip in the way that we power our transportation appliances.
In addition to the developments in Ultra-capacitors that are occuring, there are important improvements in lithium ion batteries. Both can make hybrid and plug in hybrid vehicles more practical,
and more economic.
Here is the story from Technology Review:
More Powerful Hybrid Batteries
A123 Systems has built a powerful, lightweight lithium-ion battery pack that could lower the price of hybrid vehicles.
By Kevin Bullis
Friday, May 19, 2006
Last fall, Watertown, MA-based startup A123 Systems announced that its advanced lithium-ion batteries would make rechargeable circular saws and drills more powerful than plug-in tools (see "More Powerful Batteries").
The company, having delivered on its promise (the tools will be available at The Home Depot this weekend), has now built a battery pack that Ric Fulop, one of the company's founders and its vice president of marketing and business development, says could make hybrid vehicles cheaper and more convenient, while maintaining or improving performance.
The new hybrid battery pack was unveiled this week at the Advanced Automotive Battery and Ultracapacitor Conference in Baltimore. It could be appearing in vehicles within three years, Fulop says.
The pack weighs about as much as a small laptop computer, yet fits into a case smaller than a carton of cigarettes. Ten of them would replace the 45-kilogram battery in the Prius, Fulop says; and if one failed, the consumer could continue to drive the car using the remaining batteries, then replace the faulty one as easily as changing the battery on a rechargeable tool.
Such convenience could start to look more and more attractive as today's hybrid cars age and drivers face the need to replace worn-out batteries -- especially second owners who won't have warranty coverage.
So far, however, battery replacement isn't a big issue in the industry. In Japan, where the Prius has been on the market much longer than in the United States, for instance, Toyota just got up to a few hundred batteries last year in its recycling program.
Probably more important than ease of replacement, though, is the potential for cost savings and increased safety. Because the advanced lithium-ion batteries put a lot of power into a small, light package, a much smaller battery is needed to power the car, which could reduce hybrid prices.
As a result, a variety of cars in a fleet could come with a hybrid option that costs about as much as the option for an automatic transmission, Fulop says.
A123's batteries use a nanostructured lithium-ion phosphate material, an advanced version of the type of battery used in laptops.
On another note, we better hope we make progress learning how to get around without emitting CO2, because the Flipping Point has arrived.
Here is the story from Scientific American.
The Flipping Point
How the evidence for anthropogenic global warming has converged to cause this environmental skeptic to make a cognitive flip
By Michael Shermer
Four books eventually brought me to the flipping point. Archaeologist Brian Fagan's The Long Summer (Basic, 2004) explicates how civilization is the gift of a temporary period of mild climate. Geographer Jared Diamond's Collapse (Penguin Group, 2005) demonstrates how natural and human-caused environmental catastrophes led to the collapse of civilizations. Journalist Elizabeth Kolbert's Field Notes from a Catastrophe (Bloomsbury Publishing, 2006) is a page-turning account of her journeys around the world with environmental scientists who are documenting species extinction and climate change unmistakably linked to human action.
And biologist Tim Flannery's The Weather Makers (Atlantic Monthly Press, 2006) reveals how he went from being a skeptical environmentalist to a believing activist as incontrovertible data linking the increase of carbon dioxide to global warming accumulated in the past decade.
It is a matter of the Goldilocks phenomenon.
In the last ice age, CO2 levels were 180 parts per million (ppm)--too cold.
Between the agricultural revolution and the industrial revolution, levels rose to 280 ppm--just right.
Today levels are at 380 ppm and are projected to reach 450 to 550 by the end of the century--too warm. Like a kettle of water that transforms from liquid to steam when it changes from 99 to 100 degrees Celsius, the environment itself is about to make a CO2-driven flip.
According to Flannery, even if we reduce our carbon dioxide emissions by 70 percent by 2050, average global temperatures will increase between two and nine degrees by 2100. This rise could lead to the melting of the Greenland Ice Sheet, which the March 24 issue of Science reports is already shrinking at a rate of 224 ±41 cubic kilometers a year, double the rate measured in 1996 (Los Angeles uses one cubic kilometer of water a year).
If it and the West Antarctic Ice Sheet melt, sea levels will rise five to 10 meters, displacing half a billion inhabitants.
Because of the complexity of the problem, environmental skepticism was once tenable.
It is time to flip from skepticism to activism. "
Just this weekend, President Clinton once again warned of the dangers of Climate Change. This time, the warning went to the Graduates of the LBJ School of Public Affairs at their commencement.
This Wednesday, the Inconvenient Truth opens.
Perhaps next Tuesday,
We'll all reach the flipping point.
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