Horizon, Host: Ted Simons

April 6, 2009

Host: Ted Simons

Science Special: Alternative Fuel Vehicles

  • ASU engineering Professor Jonathan Posner discusses the latest developments in alternative fuel vehicles.
  • Jonathan Posner - Engineering professor,Arizona State University
Category: Sustainability   |   Keywords: science,

View Transcript
Ted Simons:
Finally, I talked to an Arizona State University professor who was an expert on alternative fuel vehicles about the future of such vehicles. Joining me to talk about alternative fuel vehicles is Jonathan Posner, a Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering Professor in the Fulton School of Engineering at Arizona State. Jonathan, thanks for joining us, we appreciate it.

Jonathan Posner:
Thank you for having me.

Ted Simons:
The market as we saw in the last piece makes a big deal when it comes to transportation and fuel and such. In the alternative fuel business, the market still a big player?

Jonathan Posner:
I believe so. There's several technologies that you'll be seeing in the near future, the hybrid technology as you are already seeing, but in the near future I think you'll see plug-in hybrids which both have gasoline in their engine and large batteries, where you could do 30 miles of local driving or more on your battery. So you charge up your car at night and pay the normal electricity bill. Say 10-cents per kilowatt hour. And then you'll get 30 miles of coverage. If you want to go more, say, 300 or 400 miles, you'll have a gasoline engine to allow you to do that. And then they’ll have fuel efficiency, say, about 50 miles per gallon.

Ted Simons:
And mechanics can take their Priuses and do pretty the same thing?

Jonathan Posner:
That’s right. For anywhere between $6,000 and $10,000 you can convert your existing hybrid vehicles to plug-in hybrid vehicles and this -- depending on whether it's cost effective or not depends on your budget and how much you drive as well.

Ted Simons:
Is society ready for alternative fuel vehicles? I mean just in general. Just a mind set?

Jonathan Posner:
I think that people are and I think that the recent dramatic increase in fuel prices has gotten the average person thinking about this more. The sales of the hybrid Priuses and other hybrid cars are exploding and as new technologies are available, people will adopt it. Americans are early adopters of technology and I think people are excited about it.

Ted Simons:
The plug-in hybrids you were referring to earlier, how soon will they be on the auto mall lot?

Jonathan Posner:
I don’t think anyone really knows that. You can make one today if you have a hybrid vehicle. There’s talk on the blogs and internet about 2010 and seeing a plug-in hybrid. There’s also talk about seeing just pure electric vehicles.

Ted Simons:
Talk about the future of electric vehicles; all the rage in terms of looking toward the future, way back in the past, we don't hear much about them anymore.

Jonathan Posner:
Some would consider a hybrid to be an electric vehicle. It has a drive train which can run off an electric motor. One of Chevy’s new products is called an electric vehicle because it has large batteries, but in fact it still will have perhaps a small gasoline engine. As batteries improve, the range of electric vehicles, the number of miles they can drive and how fast they can go will increase. Some of it is technology driven, as far as battery technology goes. But the other part is economics. The batteries are still relatively expensive. But the market and technology combine because as technology gets better, the same technology can be sold at a lower price.

Ted Simons:
Hydrogen; we've heard a lot about it, but again, with the hybrid craze, you don't hear as much about it. Talk about the future there.

Jonathan Posner:
Well, I hear a lot about hydrogen! I work on hydrogen fuel cells and I think it's this week, Hydrogen fuel cell cars are being sold this week in southern California. It’s a new Honda FCX car called the Clarity. And I think 200 are being sold or leased for $600 a month. There's a lot of fueling hydrogen stations in California. But the issue with hydrogen is always going to be how do you produce enough, how do you deliver it and store it, and how do you use it best. And a lot of those issues, there's bugs to work out.

Ted Simons:
How soon can the bugs be worked out? We’ve heard about that with hydrogen for quite a while.

Jonathan Posner:
I would say that California is a good indication of what we'll see in the future. It's going to be a pilot program. We'll see how well the cars run and how easy it is to fuel them and get the hydrogen to the stations or to produce it locally.

Ted Simons:
Do you see a future -- and I hate to use the old VHS or Beta argument, but whatever, but do we need one style of alternative vehicle in the future or will it be a là carte?

Jonathan Posner:
I think it will be a là carte. Everybody likes something different. Blackberry versus iPhone. Macintosh versus PC. So there's always going to be an interplay. Right now you can buy small diesel vehicles that get 60, 70 miles to the gallon. So it's about choice and it's also going to be market driven. As fuel costs change, people will make different decisions.

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