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On Not Dismissing Gas-powered Cars

The New York Times Green Inc.’s Gerard Wynn clears some of the dust away from the scuffle between proponents of biofuel versus electric-powered transportation in a column published yesterday. He points out that given the barriers to entry for both technologies, today’s gasoline engines still have some miles on them.

The all-electric Fisker Karma

C&EN’s research into the type of lithium ion batteries likely to be used in all-electric cars (like the kinds with 40+ mile electric range and 8 hours to charge overnight) suggest that the price of an electric car would need to include about $20,000 just to cover the cost of the battery. Since much of the cost now is for the materials going in to the battery, this is not a hurdle that high adoption rates and scaled-up manufacturing would easily solve. Government incentives and rebates will be required to make these cars affordable for the foreseeable future.

Last week, the Cleantech Group released its first quarter estimated figures for venture capital investing in cleantech. The report showed transportation was the number one sector attracting funds. The two biggest rounds raised were for firms engaged in the electric car revolution: $350 million for Better Place and $140.3 million for Fisker Automotive. (I’m hoping to get a “review copy” of the Fisker Karma) It’s important to note that compared to most cleantech funding rounds, these are both huge – larger than most by around a factor of ten.

Making electric cars attractive to the consumer market is not the only way to get them on the streets. The Obama administration can direct the GSA to purchase electric fleet vehicles, and many private fleet operators may find electric vehicles to be a good deal.

But back to gasoline-powered cars – they can still be a good deal for the environment. When I finally bought a car after several years of going without, I knew my low-mileage driving meant a hybrid car would not make sense for me. I bought a small, used Mazda with good gas mileage. But the mileage could be better – today’s cars can, and should, be made smaller, lighter, and with technologies that prevent the majority of energy in the gasoline to be wasted from heat and friction with the road. For example, my colleague Alex Tullo wrote recently about new formulations for tires that help drivers save on gas.

What do you think is the best bet for green driving?

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