Rumor has it that the 2009 Prius will get around 90 miles to a gallon. There have been conflicting reports that the car will include Lithium Ion batteries. There might even be a plug in option. This next generation Prius may show up around the fall of 2008 but there have been no official announcements yet.
It will be interesting to see what develops from Toyota.
In January, 2007 at the Detroit Auto Show, General Motors showed a concept electric car that will go 40 miles on a battery charge and has and an engine with an electric generator for longer trips. For the average commuter who goes no further than 20 miles each way to work this will mean they can commute to work without using a drop of gasoline. For commuters who commute farther, they would have to plug the car in while at work or burn fuel on the way home.
GM has announced several times since then that they are hard at work to bring this car into production and make it available in 2010. In fact in the September, 2007 UAW contract talks they assigned the production to a Detroit assembly plant. However, for it to go into production the batteries will have to be reliable, and available in quantity at a reasonable cost. This is expected to happen and be available in late 2010 as a 2011 model car.
Telsa motors should also be coming out with a 98 thousand dollar roadster in 2008 with a range of 220 miles per charge. According to their web site they have reservations for their entire 2008 production. There are a few other small car companies which might have an electric car available by 2008.
Since electricity is largely produced from Coal and other fossil fuels the net environmental gain would be marginal if it meant just burning more Coal or Natural Gas instead of gasoline. However there have also been major developments in the production of inexpensive solar cells.
In December 2007, NanoSolar of San Jose, California started to mass produce inexpensive thin film solar cells that are printed. They expect to be able to profitable make solar cells for 99 cents a watt. This is a very significant price reduction! In a year. a watt of solar cells in a sunny area (approximately 10 hours a day) could produce power for 3,650 (365 x 10) hours or 3.65 kilowatt hours. Figuring 14 cents a kilowatt (expensive California pricing) that would mean the solar cells would pay for themselves in just two years! With an expected life of at least 25 years that would mean virtually free power for the additional 15 to 20 years after you factor in additional installation costs!
Sadly, all of NanoSolar's expected 2008 production is already sold and appears to be going to large panel utility installations. They expect to be producing 430 megawatts a year of solar cells once they achieve full production at their San Jose plant. (About half the output of one large nuclear powered steam generator.) The peak summer demand for electricity in the US in 2006 was 789,475 megawatts (The source is Enso, http://www.eia.doe.gov/cneaf/electricity/epa/epa_sum.html.) With one solar cell production plant it would only take them 1,836 years to create that much capacity. Demand is world wide and this is just the US! The planet is going to need a LOT more plants producing solar cells and lots of crews installing them. Perhaps some of the idle factories in the US can become Solar Cell factories instead of shopping malls.
Installation may not need to be such a big problem as these thin flexible solar cells can be made into roofing shingles. With the addition of an electrician the average roofing company could become a solar cell installer. Obviously this could put a lot of people to work!
If the bulk of our electric production becomes solar cells we will have problems with energy storage for nights and cloudy days but that is a problem that could be solved with improved batteries, hydroelectric pumping and generating or some other new technology!
A future where the average building and car is covered with solar cells may not be that far away!
Imagine; "Honey, it is supposed to be cloudy tomorrow would you please plug in my car!"
Coskata is developing a technology which they say will enable them to produce ethanol (grain alcohol) from garbage for about one dollar a gallon. Burning ethanol (grain alcohol) reduces carbon monoxide, nitrous oxides, sulfur dioxide and it is a renewable resource. Currently ethanol is burnt as fuel in E85 which is 85 percent ethanol but most of the ethanol comes from corn. The production of corn is very energy intensive so much so that some claim there is a net loss. Ethanol from garbage produces 7.7 times the energy consumed. (see http://www.coskata.com/ProcessAdvantages.asp) This is potential a very significant improvement and every major city could have it's own ethanol production and thereby reduce land fill requirements.
When garbage rots, gas is produced. The technology to enhance the gas production and collect the gas has existed for a long time. Coskata has developed a process to turn the gas into ethanol using bacteria found in swamps. So far at least the bacteria used is not bioengineered and the bacteria can not survive in the presence of oxygen. The process occurs in water and Coskata has also developed a process to extract the ethanol produced from the water and recycle the water for more ethanol production. So far this has only occurred in the laboratory but the company expects to have a pilot plant in production in 2008 and a large scale plant by 2010 or 2011.
According to a 13 Jan 2008 Press release there are 2.5 million GM cars that can use E85 in the US and 3.5 million globally. Ford has also sold 1.6 million E85 capable vehicles since 1996. There is some existing E85 infrastructure in the Midwestern US.
To a Green Future!