Energy and Global Warming News for April 14: Volt meeting goal of 40-mile electric range — GM says; Green LEDs for Efficient Lighting; Big Coals Stealth Mode Campaign to Kill the Climate Bill

Volt meeting goal of 40-mile electric range, GM says

The first Chevrolet Volt cars to roll off production lines at a General Motors Co. plant in Michigan are going 40 miles on a single battery charge as promised, the plug-in hybrid electric vehicle’s head engineer said yesterday.

“I’m very confident that the batteries are delivering the energy that they need to deliver and that the vehicle’s efficiencies are where it should be,” chief engineer Andrew Farah told the Detroit Free Press. “We’re still doing a few last-minute tweaks and tunes on the aerodynamics but, again, that’s just to stabilize some things.”

Pre-production of the Volt began about two weeks ago. The car is scheduled for launch in November.

Unlike the all-electric Nissan Leaf, also slated for launch late this year, the Volt is equipped with a gasoline engine to keep the car running once it uses up its electric charge. Total electric range varies depending on terrain and weather, but the car is meeting expectations, Farah said.

“This weekend alone, I had at least two cycles that were over 40 miles,” Farah said. “I think I drove one at 41.5 and another 42.5” miles.

Green LEDs for Efficient Lighting

A new approach to fabricating light-emitting diodes (LEDs) could be used to increase their efficiency by 20 percent while yielding higher-quality light than conventional LEDs. Researchers at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) in Golden, CO, have demonstrated the approach by making a yellow-green LED that could soon be combined with other colored LEDs to yield white light. The new LED could help replace current, inefficient methods of generating white light.

LEDs, devices that emit photons when an electrical charge is applied to them, are more efficient and last longer than incandescent lightbulbs. By varying the composition of the semiconductor LEDs, materials scientists can coax the devices into emitting different colors. At the minimum, producing white light requires combining red, blue, and green, but so far, only red- and blue-light-emitting diodes are well developed. To produce green light, LED manufacturers typically apply one or more phosphor materials to blue LEDs. The phospors convert high energy blue spectrum light into lower-energy light through a process that reduces overall luminosity by approximately 20 percent.

To eliminate this loss of efficiency, researchers have tried to develop efficient green LEDs that don’t require phosphors. But a major stumbling block is that the different known semiconductor materials that can be combined to emit green light, typically indium and gallium nitride, have different-sized crystal lattice structures. For semiconductors to work efficiently, each layer of the device has to have a similarly sized lattice structure as the layer above or below it.

To get around the lattice-size mismatch, NREL researchers used a fabrication method that they had previously developed for building highly efficient multi-junction solar cells. Their method relies on using additional layers of other semiconducting materials with intermediate-sized lattice structures that bridge the gap between the disparate-sized semiconductors. “If you try to do it in one shot, the whole thing will be defective,” says Angelo Mascarenhas, team leader for solid state spectroscopy in the Center for Basic Sciences at NREL. “You have to grow a sequence of layers in a step-wise fashion.”

Big Coal’s “Stealth Mode” Campaign to Kill the Climate Bill

The coal industry includes companies that profess to support climate legislation but are in fact operating behind the scenes in “stealth mode” to deny climate science and thwart needed action on climate change.

Consider two of the coal companies that keep their heads down and yet still do a lot of damage: Peabody Energy Company, the world’s largest private-sector coal producer, and Arch Coal, the second largest U.S. coal producer.

Peabody claims to support climate legislation, but it has been identified as a key figure in opposition to climate legislation.

Climate change could raise cost of U.S. allergies

Climate change could push the cost of U.S. allergies and asthma beyond the current $32 billion annual price tag, conservation and health groups reported on Wednesday.

A warming planet makes for longer growing seasons that would produce more allergy-provoking pollen in much of the heavily populated eastern two-thirds of the United States, the National Wildlife Federation and the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America said in their report.

The cost of coping with allergies and allergen-driven asthma in the United States is at $32 billion in direct medical costs, lost work days and lower productivity, the report said.

“Climate change could allow highly allergenic trees like oaks and hickories to start replacing pines, spruces and firs that generally don’t cause allergies, exposing many more people to springtime allergy triggers,” said Amanda Staudt, a climate scientist at the wildlife federation.

Obama Seeks Local Action for Earth Day

President Obama today urged Americans to honor the upcoming 40th anniversary of Earth Day by acting to improve the environment around them and launched a Web site,, compiling citizens’ success stories.

In the video message above, Mr. Obama describes how the first Earth Day was prompted in part by vivid incidents like a fire on the pollution-stained Cuyahoga River in Cleveland. He listed that era’s suite of environmental laws, most of which were enacted under a Republican president in a time of environmental bipartisanship that long ago vanished from Capitol Hill.

Clearly with today’s Washington paralysis in mind, Mr. Obama notes that people shouldn’t count on elected officials to solve all environmental problems and “should take steps in their own homes and their own communities.” That’s always a fine message. Little acts are valuable, even in the face of planet-scale problems.

South Could Benefit From a Little Efficiency

That the American South is both a voracious consumer of energy and a laggard on implementing efficiency measures has long been a matter of some concern for policymakers and energy analysts.

A 2007 report by Forbes magazine, for example, ranked states according to a composite score in six categories: carbon footprint, air quality, water quality, hazardous waste management, policy initiatives and energy consumption.

Top honors went to states like Vermont, Oregon, Washington, Hawaii, Maryland, Connecticut and New Jersey. The first Southern state east of Texas listed was Florida “” at number 20. And as noted at the time by Robert Hawley “” then a renewable energy researcher at the Oak Ridge National Laboratory “” Tennessee, Arkansas, Kentucky, Mississippi, Louisiana, Alabama and West Virginia made up seven of the bottom eight on the list. (The were joined by Indiana.)

None of that would be a surprise to the authors of a study released Monday by researchers at the Georgia Institute of Technology and Duke University. Among the chief conclusions: introducing aggressive efficiency measures to industrial processes as well as to the residential and commercial building sectors (transportation was not considered) could well offset the expected growth in energy demand in the South over the next 20 years.

11 Responses to Energy and Global Warming News for April 14: Volt meeting goal of 40-mile electric range — GM says; Green LEDs for Efficient Lighting; Big Coals Stealth Mode Campaign to Kill the Climate Bill

  1. Bob Wallace says:

    LEDs – they have so far to go in terms of cost.

    GE is releasing a 9 watt (40 watt equivalent) LED for $40. It does have an expected lifespan of 25,000 hours.

    GE sells a 10 watt (40 watt equivalent) CFL for less than $5. It has an 8,000 hour lifespan.

    Three CFLs for less than $15 gives you the lifespan of a $40 LED.

    And you save only 10% in power. (1 watt, 25,000 hours, 25kWh, $0.105 per kWh, $2.63.)

  2. Mark Shapiro says:

    With a standard DC voltage, plug and socket combination, we could power LEDs without having to build AC to DC conversion in every LED light bulb. Plus we could power our billions of electronic devices directly . . .

  3. Bob Wallace says:

    You’d have to rewire buildings with a DC loop. That’s a lot of material and labor that might never pay back.

  4. fj2 says:

    “We are in an age of technological metamorphosis,” wrote Hermann Minkowski, the guy who taught Einstein the mathematics of General Relativity: “Mechanics is rapidly changing into electronics.”

    It was just a few short years ago that flat screen TVs, cell phones, etc. were the stuff of science fantasy; now, they’re ubiquitous; so with computers, etc., etc., etc.

    Moving to LED lighting is very encouraging.

  5. John Redford says:

    re: LEDs vs CFLs

    The color quality from CFLs is poor – you’ll ruin your eyes if you try to read by them regularly. I use a 25W halogen instead. They’re slow to come to full brightness, which means they don’t get turned off as frequently as other types. They’re also nowhere near as reliable as promised – I’ve already had to replace several. After several years of using them now, I’d be happy to pay more for a better bulb with the same energy savings.

  6. Leland Palmer says:

    I used to think that the allergy and asthma connection to AGW was exaggerated- until the last couple of years. In the last few years, I have apparently developed an asthmatic reaction to colds and flu, so that the coughing lasts for weeks, instead of days.

    It’s going around at work, this persistent cough. I know several mature people, never bothered to any great extent by asthma before, who have a similar persistent cough. This is a very bad county (Sonoma county, CA) for allergies and asthma.

    One individual case, or even a cluster of cases that I know about, does not make a trend. I’m not a doctor, of course. And the connection to AGW cannot be demonstrated by one case, or even several. But, projecting this apparent growth of asthmatic reactions to normal colds and the flu into the future, it has me wondering what the future holds.

    We may be in for an ecological unraveling the likes of which the planet has not seen for a couple of hundred million years. We can expect many “unknown unknowns” to arise. I’m wondering if this possible asthma effect is one of those unexpected side effects to AGW.

  7. Wonhyo says:

    Leland Palmer #6: “We can expect many “unknown unknowns” to arise.”

    Our official scientific predictions don’t even fully incorporate the “known unknowns” like various feedback cycles. I’m starting to read a few reports that 2 deg C as a goal is no longer achievable and 4 deg C is very possible. Just a few years ago, climate advocates were saying we have to limit warming to 2 deg C.

    “I’m wondering if this possible asthma effect is one of those unexpected side effects to AGW.”

    Studies have shown that the allergens produced by plants grow bigger and more numerous in an elevated CO2 environment.

    “We may be in for an ecological unraveling the likes of which the planet has not seen for a couple of hundred million years.”

    We “may be”? I sense a degree of denial here.

    I hate to spoil the comfort of denial, but the sooner we acknowledge the full implications of climate change, the more effective response we can make. Any plan that does not include a goal of net zero emissions is insufficient to stabilize the climate. Any net zero emissions goal that is not set for the near future is insufficient.

    My biggest recurring fear is that climate advocates will settle for an interim target (like 450 ppm or 350 ppm). Nature does not compromise or negotiate the way politicians and businessmen do.

  8. GFW says:

    I second the complaints about CFLs, not so much on the light quality, but on the burnout time. There’s no way in hell they’re lasting 8000 hours. Some are ok on the speed-to-full-brightness, but the reflector bulbs for recessed sockets (e.g. PAR30) are bad for that. Finally, a few CFLs have been noisy.

    I’m not hating on them – I use them, but I really wish VU-1 would hurry up and get to market.

  9. Leif says:

    And for another take on lighting. Even more efficient than LED. The quiet kid on the block.

    This site is very informative and I find it inspiring. I have no affiliation.

  10. Leland Palmer says:

    Hi Wonhyo-
    Oh, I agree. It’s just that my own personal anecdote is based on personal experience, not on sound science or a valid statistical study. This makes me cautious about coming to a firm conclusion – about an asthmatic connection to AGW, not about AGW itself.

    I have often advocated seizing the coal fired power plants and forcibly converting them to enhanced efficiency “carbon negative” Bio-Energy with Carbon Capture and Storage (BECCS) power plants.

    From Wikipedia- BECCS

    Bio-energy with carbon capture and storage (BECCS) is a greenhouse gas mitigation technology which produces negative carbon emissions by combining biomass use with carbon capture and storage.[1] It was pointed out in the IPCC Fourth Assessment Report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) as a key technology for reaching low carbon dioxide atmospheric concentration targets.[2] The negative emissions that can be produced by BECCS has been estimated by the Royal Society to be equivalent to a 50 to 150 ppm decrease in global atmospheric carbon dioxide concentrations.[3]

    The concept of BECCS is drawn from the integration of biomass processing industries or biomass fuelled power plants with carbon capture and storage. BECCS is a form of bio-energy with carbon storage(BECS). BECS also includes other technologies such as biochar and biomass burial.[1]

    The main appeal of BECCS is in its ability to result in negative emissions of CO2. The capture of carbon dioxide from bioenergy sources effectively removes CO2 from the atmosphere.[4]

    The technological solutions implemented so far are quantitatively insufficient to deal with the problem, IMO. BECCS is a synergistic solution, and could change the numbers by a lot, because it simultaneously avoids fossil fuel use, puts carbon back underground, generates electricity to run electric vehicles, and avoids methane producing decay of carbonaceous trash. All the other solutions proposed so far are equivalent to trying to drain a tub by just running water into it more slowly. BECCS drains the tub.

    Chu is actively looking into carbon sequestration, as he should, IMO. If we can start sequestering carbon, especially if we can get practical and cheap in situ mineral carbonation going, this could have a big impact on the numbers.

    As you say, the climate speaks the language of billions of tons of carbon, and so far we are communicating entirely the wrong message to it. We’re talking about slowing the growth of emissions, when we should be talking about putting carbon back underground, hopefully in the form of a carbonate, for true geological timescale sequestration.

  11. Bob Wallace says:

    CFLs – they now come in several different “colors”. If you want daylight you can buy daylight and if you want cooler you can buy cooler.

    Bulb life. Buy off-name brands and you might not get adequate life. That’s not the case with brand name bulbs.

    Slow to turn on. Sure, the first ones were. I’m still using an ~18 year old CFL and it’s slow to come up to full power. So I stuck in a room where I seldom go at night. I’ve got fast-on bulbs in the rooms where I live.

    Noisy. Never experienced that and I’ve got nothing but CFLs in my house. If you’re experiencing noise try another brand. Remember, they’re pretty cheap now.


    CFLs are inexpensive. LEDs are still expensive.

    CFLs save tremendous amounts of energy and the world would be better off if people cut their electricity consumption. LEDs do save more energy, but their current high cost will keep people using incandescents if they aren’t aware of the CFL alternative.

    LEDs are a great choice for places where bulb replacement (labor costs) are expensive. Places like street lights, traffic lights, etc. But for most households changing a CFL in your table lamp every ten years isn’t exactly asking a lot….