Is it time to trade in for a hybrid?

More fuel efficient cars are coming in all shapes and sizes now. Hybrid is a catch phrase that many dealers are pushing. Is it time to buy a hybrid though? The last time I did the math on the difference in cost (taking into account tax rebates for the hybrid). It didn’t make sense to spend the extra money unless gas went up to 8 dollars a gallon or I drove twice as much a year. (Or I kept it for 10-15 years.)

So, when does it make sense to buy a hybrid?

And what’s more how should you figure out. It’s funny, everybody says you save money with a hybrid, but until you sit down and do a comparison, you won’t know. i.e. it depends on your usage.

Start by tallying up your mileage for the year. Divide that by your miles per gallon to see how many gallons of fuel you bought over the year and do a rough cost estimate with the current gas prices. That’s how much you’re spending in a year on gasoline. Now compare the hybrids sticker price with a comparable car. Subtract any tax credits from the difference. Now compare this “premium” for the hybrid with your yearly fuel costs. Will it take a year to make up the difference? Three? My opinion is that if it’s four years or less, then it’s probably a worthwhile ROI. More than that and I think I’d hesitate.

You might revisit your gas price estimate and ask yourself how much you expect that to change in the next couple of years (as that will effect your return on investment.) Also, consider if your driving patterns will be changing – will you be driving more, less or about the same in coming years.

After all of this, you should be able to answer the question if it’s really time for YOU to trade in your car for a hybrid car.

Conserving Heating Oil by weather proofing

We all want to save money on fuel oil and heating oil for our homes, even the home electric bills in the winter can be slightly scary. It’s a good thing to go through your house and evaluate where wasted heat and energy may be. Is the glazing on your windows old and flaking? Do you use blinds or curtains (curtains can cut heat transmission.) Newer energy efficient windows can be a good investment, of course, you don’t want to replace your windows in the middle of winter. Does your attic have enough insulation? Can more be added? It’s even possible to retrofit walls with sprayed in insulation. Most of the homes leakage though comes via the windows and doors so those are the biggest things to check. Proper weatherstripping can certainly help your heating oil and energy costs through the long cold winters, but you should also make sure you set your thermostat around 70 degrees or even 68 if possible and avoid the temptation to run it up into the upper 70s.

Waste Coffee Grounds Potential Biodiesel Source

THIS is exactly the kinds of thinking we need to be doing. I’ve said it for a long time that we need to find a way to make fuel out of the things that NO ONE wants and is plentiful. (Kudzu…) Add coffee grounds to the growing list of things that could be a biodiesel source. I know many people use spent coffee grounds as a fertilizer of sorts, but the article reports that they estimate that spent coffee grounds could contribute over 300 million gallons of biodiesel around the world (I assume annually.)

The conversion process taking the oils from the grounds and converting to a biodiesel was cheap, the excess solids can be used as compost and is more stable than traditional biodiesels. Waste coffee grounds contain as much as 20% oil.

Your friendly Neighborhood Nuclear Reactor

Wow! I just read this article over at the Guardian about miniature nuclear reactors that could power 20,000 homes, cost $25 million US dollars and essentially be buried underground, refueled every seven to ten years.

No moving parts, not weapons grade fuel, according to the article a Chernobyl style leakage is “impossible”. This is apparently technology from Los Alamos laboratories and the United States government has licensed the technology to a New Mexico based company called Hyperion. They say they currently have more than 100 orders and have plans to up their production potential. They’ve got a six year backlog.

This box could be delivered on a truck, “smaller than a garden shed” is how the Guardian has billed it. Mass production is expected within about 5 years. The units would be encased in concrete.

Other companies are known to be designing micro-reactors. Toshiba has been testing 200KW reactors measuring roughly six metres by two metres. Designed to fuel smaller numbers of homes for longer, they could power a single building for up to 40 years.

Plasma Gasification Plant will be First in US

The county of St. Lucie, Florida will be home to the first plasma gasification plant in the US. They’ve contracted with Geoplasma to construct the plant which will use plasma to rip apart 1500 tons of garbage each day. From what I recall reading before the primary byproduct is an obsidian like residue. The process also powers turbines which creates electricity. I’m not quite sure that the whole process creates energy though…. I would be interested in hearing the complete process and get the numbers of power input to output from the whole process.

I do also wonder about whether or not it makes sense to vaporize pretty much ANY trash. Recycling helps us reclaim some scarce materials for reuse, this would obliterate them at the molecular level.

IF, the input material is chosen wisely and they really are cleaner than incenerators and the energy equation isn’t too great a loss, these kinds of plants could dramatically help our trash problems.

Think about the tons of garbage that are dumped in landfills each year. If we could actually reclaim some energy out of them through a process that was relatively clean, that would be fantastic. There’s a certain amount of brilliance in taking something that everybody wants to get rid of and making it a valuable input to make something everybody wants.

I’ll be interested to hear more about this process and more analysis of the net energy usage as well as how clean it is.

Gas Under $2 in the Asheville Area

I haven’t looked around too much, but saw a price of $1.98 at the Woodland Hills (19/23 New Stock Road Exit) Ingles. (The other gas station there has it cheaper with a car wash.)

This is the first time I’ve seen the price under $2 in I don’t know when.

Here’s hoping we see $1.50 gas by Christmas. (Of course, I’d take it if it were lower too.)

We can’t let the lower prices though make us lax with our gas saving habits and the true need for more domestic production and development of alternatives! So, keep using gasoline carefully and let’s keep looking at alternatives and domestic production so we can stop sending so much money to the parts of the world that don’t have our best interests at heart.

21st Century Version of the Barbary Coast Pirates?

Pirates raiding ships have been in the news off and on in recent years. It’s been steady, but nothing really high profile. It’s probably passed underneath many peoples radar. This week though, the price of gas climbed $1 a barrel on news that a large oil tanker had been captured by Somali based pirates. After reading that linked article. It sounds as though, we’re seeing something not too different from the Barbary Coast Pirates of old (first overseas expedition of the US Marines (”To the shores of Tripoli”…))

Now, if this had happened in August or so, we probably would have seen the price of oil go up $10 a barrel or more. I’m thinking that this problem has gained enough prominence though we may see concerted international action. Could this be one of the first major foreign policy tests of a Barack Obama administration? Or something that the Bush administration attempts to address before leaving office? Or is it something that we leave hands off for the foreseeable future? I know we’re not the worlds policemen, but when international waters are threatened by basic “highway robbery”, shoiuldn’t the powerful nations put together a solution (as opposed to recommending ships hire private security.)

Ethanol from Algae gets a boost

Dow chemical has given some backing to a startup, algenolbiofuels, that has a process to create ethanol as a byproduct of algae. This process apparently uses genetically modified cyanobacteria to convert carbon dioxide into ethanol. Their goal is 100,000 gallons of ethanol per year. (Seems a bit small actually….) I would hope that the genetically altered algea cannot find a way back out into the wild. The bioreactor apparently is a container with saltwater that has been pumped in from the sea.

The demonstration plant will be in Freeport, Texas.

According to Technology Review, these bacteria do create small amounts of ethanol naturally. In the wild though, it has to be in a dark environment (or anaerobic). Apparently this method doesn’t require the “harvesting” of the algea in order to obtain the ethanol. The harvesting of algae has proven a challenge in complexity (and price) for other algae-ethanol startups.

They say that they expect to be able to produce ethanol for $1.25 per gallon and as a side benefit for each gallon of ethanol produced they have a byproduct of fresh water (remember salt water was one necessary part going into this process.)

In some parts of the world this really could solve multiple problems – fuel availability and more importantly fresh water availability. It would be interesting to see this process compared against other desalination processes.

–Update–

Today I saw this story about a startup that claims to have a process that can generate as much as 20,000 gallons of biofuel per acre per year using algae microorganisms. The company is Joule Biotechnologies and they’re based in Cambrige, MA. With this process genetically engineered algae microorganisms use energy from the sun, consume carbon dioxide and water and create ethanol or other hydrocarbon. Their plans are a pilot project in the Southwest next year with commercial quantities available by 2010 and large scale by 2011. According to the article production on this scale and this method could provide competitive prices even if oil is selling as low as $50 per barrel. (Currently in the 60-70/barrel range.)

They go out of their way to clarify that this is not algae that they are using, but genetically engineered micro-organisms. The product does not have to be refined, and the micro-organisms don’t have to be harvested to obtain the fuel. (Certainly good news for the algae micro-organisms…..)