General Motors EV1 Electric Car and Citrus Waste Gasoline of the Future

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PHOTO: GENERAL MOTORS
GM's silent EV1: No emissions, but a booming sticker price.

News briefs on General Motors new electric car that operates independent of gasoline, but the cost of the car has hefty price tag, and a new alternative gasoline made of citrus waste.

General Motors EV1 Electric Car and Citrus Waste Gasoline of the Future

GM’s silent EV1: No emissions, but a booming sticker price.

When you hear about someone spending $25,000 on a
car, you might dream for a moment of yourself behind the wheel
of, say, a pale yellow convertible, your purebred retriever
hanging his head out the back …

Outside your fantasies, you’re
probably too practical to spend that kind of money on any car,
but as long as we’re fantasizing, what if you could get your
hands on a car that comes with this guarantee: “You will never
have to go to the gas station again.” How much would you be
willing to pay for that?

General Motors promises to be the first
car company to mass-produce an electric vehicle that does indeed
come with this guarantee and does indeed sell for $25,000. The
EV1, or “Impact” (a name perhaps better replaced by one with less
unfortunate connotations?), will be available this fall at Saturn
dealers in four western cities: Los Angeles, San Diego, Phoenix,
and Tucson. Like your pale yellow convertible, it’s a two-seater,
but EV1 is equipped with a double-lead battery that runs 70-90
miles per charge. GM says the electric car has power everything
and comes with dual air bags, anti-lock brakes, a CD player, and
cruise control and functions in all other ways like a regular car
except it makes no noise and has zero emissions.

Lucy Zielinski,
GM’s electric vehicle spokesperson, says the EV1 will probably be
most appropriate for households with two cars. People can use it
for commuting and errands rather than road trips since you need
to refuel (plug in) about three times as often as a conventional
vehicle. You can carry a convenience charger in your trunk, “kind
of like a spare tire,” Zielinski says, which tops off the
batteries in about eight hours, or accomplish the same at home in
about three hours with a larger 220-volt charger.

EV1 may not be
a convertible, but thankfully it isn’t the anemic little wheezer
we were anticipating either. It can go from O mph to 60 mph in
eight and a half seconds, a feat rarely matched by most
gas-engined cars, and some test models have even been setting
high-performance records. Recently an electric-powered Italian EV
set a speed record of 188.9 mph, says Michael Coates of Green Car
Media, a California group that defines itself as an “independent
alternative fuel research organization.” GM also has plans to
market an electric pickup truck nationwide in 1997 for use in
commercial fleets. The truck, a Chevy S-10, will be most
appropriate for predetermined routes where the truck comes back
to a garage every night.

Though the technology for this type of
vehicle has existed for some time, Zielinski says GM began
manufacturing the car to be marketed because “there’s finally a
demand.” In fact, pollution created a market for the car. Since
1990, the California Air Resource Board (CARB) has had
regulations requiring that two percent of all light-duty vehicles
offered for sale in California in 1998 must emit zero tailpipe
emissions. This increases to five percent in 2001 and ten percent
in 2003, with similar regulations going into effect in New York
and Massachusetts, though in this political climate, all
emissions requirements could be repealed before they are enacted.

Predictably, just about everybody in the car or battery business
is experimenting with electric vehicles in an effort to keep GM
from stealing the market. Honda has an electric test model they
call the CRX; Chrysler plans to convert a test model minivan to
mass market by 1998, but the expense of this conversion will
drive its price into the $100,000 stratosphere. As for batteries,
nickel-metal hydride models that would eliminate lead and cadmium
from the battery manufacturing process will soon be available.
They take a longer charge and last the lifetime of the vehicle.

Still GM’s $25,000 price seems like a lot of money for a car that
should actually be very simple to make. But U.S. Department of
Energy studies claim that by the year 2000 the cost of owning and
operating an EV should reach parity with gas-powered vehicles,
and in states with emissions requirements, a 10 percent tax
credit is available to you when you purchase an EV. Once you
figure in the cost of health care and environmental damage from
emissions of gasoline-powered vehicles, electric vehicles start
getting cheaper. A study by the Institute of Economic and
Environmental Studies of California State University, Fullerton,
estimated that a failure to sufficiently clean up the air in the
Los Angeles region will cost $10 billion a year in health costs.
Even at $25,000 a pop, $10 billion a year could purchase quite a
fleet of electric vehicles.

–Molly Miller

Gasoline of the Future?

Here’s a novel idea:
Margarita’s for your car, because as it turns out, triple sec and
lime juice aren’t too far from the ethanol fuel USDA scientists
have started making from citrus waste. Although in 1994 ethanol
production peaked at 1.1 billion gallons and this number is
expected to continue growing, it is still very much a fringe
activity in the fuel industry. Production is expected to
increase, however, and alcohol-blended gasoline is expected to be
a strong factor in meeting the future demands for oxygenation in
reformulated gasolines, which, in turn, make them cleaner
burning.

In the past, the more than 800,000 tons of citrus waste
produced by growers was dumped onto pastures where it either took
its natural path and fermented or was eaten by livestock. But as
crop production increases, it is becoming increasingly
impractical to continue treating the waste in this way. USDA
chemist Dr. Karel Grohmann notes that “citrus processors now
convert the waste to low-value animal feed, which is not very
profitable, bringing only 3-5 cents per pound,” so the cost of
drying the waste is higher than the market value of the feed. By
converting citrus waste into fuel, a profitable system would be
established to provide economic opportunities and benefit the
environment.

As we all know by now, one of our current problems
with the energy sources we use is that their production and
combustion releases huge amounts of C02 , a “greenhouse” gas.
Dr. Grohmann does not foresee this as a problem with citrus waste
conversion, however. There are three byproducts of this process:
ethanol, a bio-fuel; carbon dioxide; and acetic acid, used in
making vinegar and other foods. The percentage of C02 to ethanol
produced is about 50/50, but, Grohmann explains, “This C02 can
be cycled back into plants and organisms quickly because it is a
closed cycle, unlike the case with fossil fuels. When we burn
fossil fuels, we burn materials that have accumulated for
billions of years,” thus throwing off the natural cycles of C02
absorption. Additionally, the amounts of C02 emitted as a
byproduct of citrus waste conversion are considerably lower than
that emitted by fossil fuel combustion. The wide-scale
integration of ethanol would provide a clean-burning,
domestically-produced, relatively nontoxic and non-carcinogenic
fuel.

It would also promote the international position of the
United States by reducing our dependence upon other countries for
oil. Grohmann sees this project as “strategically important
because we are currently spending $50 billion yearly in trade
deficit on oil.” If we took after Brazil, a country that runs
about 1 million cars on alcohol converted from sugarcane, we’d be
in a better situation. America already does produce alcohol from
corn sugars, but not nearly enough of this alcohol is produced
yearly to make any substantial shift in consumption. We need to
increase production at least tenfold before we can blend all
gasoline with ethanol or alcohol and make a dent in fossil fuel
dependence.

–Jessica Bolson