Audi e-Diesel

Audi and Sunfire have invented a robot plant. With a dumb name.

The Dresden energy technology corporation sunfire is Audi’s project partner and the plant operator. It operates according to the power‑to‑liquid (PtL) principle and uses green power to produce a liquid fuel. The only raw materials needed are water and carbon dioxide. The CO2 used is currently supplied by a biogas facility. In addition, initially a portion of the CO2 needed is extracted from the ambient air by means of direct air capturing, a technology of Audi’s Zurich‑based partner Climeworks.

Square D car charger after two months

Back in June I blogged installing a Square D Model EV230WS level 2 electric vehicle charging station.

The new charger is connected by 8 gauge copper wire with a NEMA 14-50 plug and receptacle, a Square D QO series safety switch, and a 40 amp breaker. The actual current draw of the charging station is 30 amps at 240 VAC, so I am still well within code for the 100 amp subpanel in the barn, and having the 14-50 plug means we can potentially support other 240 mobile loads like Teslas, large RVs, plasma cutters, and portable welders.

As promised, the system charges our plug-in Prius in roughly 1.5 hours, and the Nissan Leaf in 5. It’s very simple, no unnecessary bells or whistles, you just plug in and walk away. There’s no need for anything more complex, because the cars themselves both have externally visible charge indicators (the Prius just tells you if it’s done charging or not, but the Leaf gives you a rough indication of charging progress with three top-of-the-dash LEDs) and both cars can give you detailed charts and graphs of charging status and history from their on-board computer systems.

We’ve had a total of one unusual incident – last week the system lit its red “alarm” LED when the Leaf was plugged in. Since I installed it with a safety switch, it was easily rebooted, which cleared the alarm and restored normal function.

Last night a nearby lightning strike spiked our power, causing computers to reboot and making the HVAC system noisily unhappy, but the charger (which was plugged into the Prius at the time) didn’t seem to care much, it just rebooted itself and carried on normally.

All in all, we are quite pleased with everything about the charger except the price. All electric vehicle charging stations are ridiculously expensive right now, though, and at $600 the Square D EV230WS was the most cost-effective charger available without building our own.

Automotive Grade Linux might save your life

A standard Linux-based software platform for the connected car would be huge, and at this point could even be a life-saving development.

Automotive Grade Linux is a collaborative open source project developing a common, Linux-based software stack for the connected car. The community’s first open source software release is now available for download, bringing the industry one step closer to realizing the benefits of open automotive innovation.

Read the press release or visit the AGL Wiki to learn more and download the code.

Recent Windows-based dashboards (for example the Nissan Leaf) are an abomination only slightly less dangerous than even-more-hideous automaker proprietary dashboards (for example the Toyota Prius Plug-in). With all the data that exists about the dangers of distracted driving, and state legislatures passing draconian laws against texting behind the wheel, why is it legal for auto vendors to create these potentially lethal user interfaces? How can a pure touch-screen interface, that must be visually examined to be used, possibly be less dangerous than texting while driving? I can drop or ignore a smartphone, or just turn the bloody thing off, but I am forced to interact with my dashboard!

A step in the right direction is to open up the dashboard software ecosystem, so sane designs have an opportunity to compete for driver approval. After all, you can’t expect the same people who designed backwards fake stickshifts (as commonly found in Nissans and Toyotas) to create a good user interface; these people have already demonstrated that they aren’t capable of understanding the task, much less reaching the goal. But a robust community of Open Source hackers would allow the computerized automotive dashboard to progress in the same way that automobile clubs, hot rod enthusiasts, and similar communities have driven innovation historically in the rest of the car industry – by finding more alternatives, and demonstrating them in action.

For every good design there will probably need to be a lot of bad ones. Let’s stop limiting ourselves to the bad (are you listening, Ford?) and start working on a dashboard that’s less likely to kill people.

Installing a Square D Electric car charger

Since we’ve got two electric vehicles and a plug-in hybrid, it seemed like time to install a level 2 charging station.

After spending about six months studying the options, we decided on the Square D Model EV230WS which periodically goes on sale at Amazon and the Big Box stores (where shopping is a baffling ordeal!) for about $600.

Honestly, I don’t know if it’s really appropriate to call things “Square D” any more. The company was bought out by (nominally French) multinational megacorp Schneider Electric in 1991, after which they introduced the “homeline” series of circuit breakers and load centers, which are not as well regarded as the industry-leading QO series. But on the other hand, Schneider does still make the QOs, and they are still an excellent product family – I put a big QO breaker box in my house when I upgraded the main service a few years back, and I am very satisfied with it.

The new charger is connected by 8 gauge copper wire with a NEMA 14-50 plug and receptacle, a Square D QO series safety switch, and a 40 amp breaker. The actual current draw of the charging station is 30 amps at 240 VAC, so I am still well within code for the 100 amp subpanel in the barn, and having the 14-50 plug means we can potentially support other 240 mobile loads like Teslas, large RVs, plasma cutters, and portable welders.

Now the plug-in Prius should charge in 1.5 hours instead of 3, and the Leaf is supposed to drop from a totally impractical 16 hours (on the level 1 charger) to much more user-friendly 5 hours.

Tesla Motors opens electric car patents

Tesla Motors has decided to encourage competition by letting everyone have access to their technology edge.

Technology leadership is not defined by patents, which history has repeatedly shown to be small protection indeed against a determined competitor, but rather by the ability of a company to attract and motivate the world’s most talented engineers.
— Elon Musk, CEO Tesla Motors

Toyota linear generator

Crankless linear motors are not new, but haven’t been very successful historically. Not only are they more difficult to engineer than crankshaft engines, they also haven’t generally been as useful because what we’ve needed has usually been rotating forces, like for example to drive wheels and generators.

But Toyota has wedded the linear motor with a linear generator that reminds me of the (awful, don’t buy one) shake-light and adapted it to power generation for series hybrid vehicles, where it makes a suprising amount of sense.

A series hybrid is one where only the electric motor ever powers the wheels directly; the fuel-burning engine runs a generator to provide electricity rather than motive power. A parallel hybrid is one where the fueled engine and the electric motor are both always driving the wheels. The Prius is neither, which is why the Prius was such a gamechanger for hybrid vehicle technology.

Other researchers have noted the ability of modern fuel injection systems to compensate for most of the traditional problems of crankless linear engines, and built multi-fuel versions.

Hydrogen again rears its petrochemical head

Another breathless article about the wonderful earth-saving hydrogen revolution that’s been just around the corner since the 1980s.

Here’s the breakdown on the hydrogen swindle. It’s all just basic science.

1) Usable hydrogen does not occur naturally on Earth, you have to make it. There isn’t any hydrogen well, there aren’t any hydrogen mines. The easiest way to make large quantities is something called steam reformation but you can also electrolyze water.

2) Since you have to expend energy to make usable hydrogen, hydrogen is not really a fuel like oil or coal, hydrogen is a way to store energy produced in some other way. You don’t get all the energy you spent back out, either; there’s some loss involved. So you can burn polluting fossil fuels to make hydrogen from natural gas, and actually create more pollution and waste than you’d make running directly from the fossil fuels without any hydrogen being involved.

3) Sure, you can make hydrogen using a sustainable energy source like solar or wind. But comparing stored hydrogen to other energy storage technologies, such as batteries, you find that hydrogen has extremely poor energy density – that is, a battery that can store just as much energy as a hydrogen tank of a given size is significantly smaller than the hydrogen tank – and if you are using the latest technologies, the battery will be lighter and safer as well.

So while hydrogen has many wonderful properties, IT IS NOT A FUEL and it isn’t even a very good energy storage medium (at least compared to batteries) for most purposes. And we haven’t even talked yet about the expense and difficulties associated with storing and using it!

The truth is Big Oil likes hydrogen because any so-called “hydrogen economy” would necessarily be built and run on petroleum and natural gas. And another truth seems to be that you can sell any pseudo-scientific energy quackery in California, since they’ve already been around this barn twice now and are apparently still falling for the same nonsense.

3 states now blocking Tesla sales

New Jersey has joined Arizona and Texas in banning direct sales of Tesla electric vehicles to the public.

Chris Christie, that fearless champion of free enterprise and democracy, used his personal control of the state’s Motor Vehicle Commission to end-run the representative branch of New Jersey’s government, who might have raised some sort of ethical objections to what Christie called “the cold, hard hand of government determining winners and losers.”

Tesla will presumably have to shut down its two dealerships in New Jersey, which were giving well-heeled NJ residents a way they could personally and individually choose to reduce the tailpipe-emission pollution problem that sends 53,000 Americans to an early grave every year.

Is the inevitable apotheosis of the Reagan “Revolution”? Parasitic middle-men and Ayn Rand worshipping dirty energy producers using their control over the machines of government to prevent individuals from taking effective action on the behalf of their neighbors and descendants? These people believe that any action that is not motivated by greed should be forbidden, and it seems that they have the power to make it so.

Honda CR-V “hunting idle” again…

The 2003 and 2004 Honda CR-V are pretty great small sport-utility vehicles for their price. Soft ride on the road (for an SUV, that is), not too top-heavy, automatic all wheel drive, front wheel disc brakes with ABS, some towing capacity and off-road capability, folding picnic table (really!) hidden under the rear carpeting, moon roof and 5- or 6-speed manual available, and a 2.4 liter sixteen valve double-overhead cam engine that gets really great mileage for the power and torque.

They are, mostly, incredibly reliable and reasonably inexpensive to maintain. However, Hondas are notorious for periodically clogging their idle air control valves with gunk that’s come up the PCV, at which point Honda dealers will typically either tell you to replace the AICV (about $400 USD) or the entire throttle body and associated bric-a-brac ($1000 or thereabouts). As Eric the Car Guy says, “Working at a dealership, you don’t make a lot of money cleaning things“.

If you have a 2003 Honda CR-V that revs wildly at idle when cold, or dies in neutral at highway speed when hot, follow Eric’s instructions for diagnosis before leaping to conclusions. That being said, it’s probably the IACV. I’ve cleaned mine twice since buying the CRV new in 2002, and it needs it again.