January 6, 2006 9:50 AM PST

In L.A., the hybrid is, like, so last year

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LOS ANGELES--Here at the LA Auto Show, many carmakers are buzzing about new fuel-efficient hybrid cars. But little do they know, Hollywood tastemakers and hipsters are already onto another gasoline alternative: biodiesel.

Long a green fuel for hippies, biodiesel is an alternative fuel that's made from the fat of animals or vegetables such as soy beans. The fuel runs in any diesel-engine car or truck, so its use doesn't require more than an old diesel-engine car like the Mercedes or a new diesel for sale outside of California. (California prohibits the sale of diesel-engine cars because their use of regular diesel fuel does not meet the state's tough clean-air standards.)

That's why some Hollywood hipsters are trading in their hybrids for old Mercedes and fueling up with biodiesel, which doesn't cause greenhouse gases and is a renewable energy source.

"Actors, writers, PR agencies--these people are driving biodiesel-fueled cars and their main intention is to get rid of the dependence on foreign oil," said Oliver Schmidt, an engineer with an automobile design think-tank called Moonraker, based in nearby Malibu.

Still, fueling up is harder than fighting L.A.'s rush-hour traffic. Biodiesel drivers must travel to L.A.'s harbor area, Ventura or San Diego, few of the only places with a station.

But on Friday, eco-friendly drivers in a group called The Biodiesel Co-op, which includes designers and engineers from Volkswagen who are living in Malibu, plan to open an "unofficial" biodiesel station, called the Biodiesel Fueling Trailer, in nearby Marina del Rey.

This should be good news to celebrities like actresses Daryl Hannah and Alexandra Paul of "Baywatch," who are longtime green-energy supporters. Even the public relations company that previously supplied actors with hybrid cars for the Oscars are now turning to biodiesel-fueled cars for the same task.

Some celebrities are already on a biodiesel awareness campaign. Singer Willie Nelson has long been a champion of the clean-burning fuel. He makes and sells his own alternative fuel, called B20 (or biowillie). The singer Bonnie Raitt, who's touring the country in a car fueled with B20, hosted an educational event touting biodiesel last month in Knoxville, Tenn.

More auto show photos

According to the National Biodiesel Board, manufacturing of the green fuel was up threefold in 2005 from the year before to 75 million gallons. That's thanks in part to a first-ever government tax break for makers and a mandate in Minnesota to cut all diesel fuel with biodiesel.

Still, electric-gas hybrid cars are the topic of much interest at the LA Auto Show this week, which hosted media days on Wednesday and Thursday, and will be open to the public through Jan. 15.

VW is currently developing clean-diesel technology that it plans to introduce with the Jetta in 2007. The car will be a bit more expensive, but buyers could receive a tax break from the IRS.

At the auto show, Honda showed off the third in a line of hybrid cars it has introduced since 1999. The 2006 Civic Hybrid, which came out in October, has already been named Motor Trend's Car of the Year. It gets 50 miles per gallon and starts at $21,000.

"The awareness of the hybrid is certainly at its highest level ever," said Sage Marie, Honda's manager of public relations.

In the cutting-edge realm, Honda also showcased its hydrogen-powered fuel cell car, the EPX. It's currently being tested and driven by a family in California.

The car is run on fuel cells that bind oxygen and hydrogen to create an electrical current that powers the motor. The natural byproduct emitted from the tailpipe is water. The process reduces local air pollution.

At the show, Porsche executives also talked about plans to introduce a hybrid version of its sports utility vehicle, the Cayenne. While unveiling Porsche's newest sports car, the Cayman S, the company promised a hybrid Cayenne by 2010 that would improve fuel efficiency by 15 percent.

BMW executives talked briefly about alternative cars on Wednesday, but gave no indications that it would develop a hybrid vehicle. They did, however, give the nod to diesel. That's not a surprise, given that most of BMW's sales in Europe are for diesel vehicles.

"(Biodiesel) is another technology that offers possibilities in the United States as a green technology," BMW executive Tom Pervis said Wednesday during a speech.

With regards to hybrids, Pervis added, it's clear that "no one technology will dominate the industry ever again, at least not like gasoline has in the 20th century."

See more CNET content tagged:
biodiesel, LA Auto Show, hybrid car, fuel, Los Angeles

48 comments

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No greenhouse gases?
Doesn't the burning of ANY fuel create CO2?
Posted by elwood2 (1 comment )
Reply Link Flag
Yes
Yes, the burning of any hydrocarbon produces CO2 and H20.
Posted by (5 comments )
Link Flag
Burning hydrogen only creates water
Burning hydrogen only creates water.
Posted by lingsun (482 comments )
Link Flag
not exactly clean...
Biodiesel is not exactly a "clean" fuel. It still produces CO2 gas. The pro-argument is that this CO2 was already in the atmosphere (and sequestered by plants), rather than buried deep in the earth like fossil fuels. However, the natural cycle is to let the CO2 remain in the biological form and return to the ground. Burning it is just not going to solve the problem we already have. It is a *far* better temporary solution never-the-less than buring fossil fuels, so I am for it in theory. However, the production of usable biodiesel requires the input of energy and chemicals that at some point required fossil fuels to produce. In that sense, it is unclear if these indirect effects negate the positive value of biodiesel.
Posted by posterlogo (8 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Greens dont like biodiesel
Biodiesel is a great alternative, and if large scale production could be achieved it'd be a great way to get the US off of imported oil.

That being said, greens dont have much love for biodiesel. For one thing, that 'no greenhouse gas' thing isnt accurate. After you factor in all the increased agriculture and related manufacturing thats required to create the biodiesel in the first place, you may in fact end up releasing more CO2 and methane into the air.

Personally, I couldnt care less as I think this man-made global warming scare is a fairy tale. But even if we shifted completely over to biodiesel, we'd still have the eco-zealots going off about evil SUVs and such.
Posted by (402 comments )
Reply Link Flag
What happen if every one in US
starts driving a biodiesel car? Will the agricultal production of the entire world be able to cope up with the demand, keeping in mind the current demand for fuel?
Posted by indrakanti (90 comments )
Reply Link Flag
IF WE ALL DRIVE BIODIESEL
and have to raise more pigs to burn them - an idea that gives me the creeps - at least we will flavor the increased C02 gas production with the flowery smell of pigs manure.
Posted by marc_90292 (59 comments )
Link Flag
It'd be a mess
According to the EIA, agricultural production in the US cannot support 100% adoption of biodiesel fuels. The odds of our ag industry shifting to meet the demand is fairly low given the *true* low demand for such fuels. Why low demand? Because if everybody switched to biodiesel, we'd all have less money... its more expensive.

Already, you see how people react when the price of fuel is increased by 10 or 15 cents... the move to biodiesel will cost everybody at *least* 15 to 20 cents more per gallon... and the fuel will not deliver the same mileage as gasoline or diesel.
Posted by David Arbogast (1709 comments )
Link Flag
Biodiesel: Are we missing the forest for the trees?
It's so funny that we are embracing biodiesel. Within the diesel arena, the real reduction in emissions has come from the introduction of efficient engines and low-sulfur fuel. On a transit bus (a vehicle category for which there is lots of data), biodiesel only reduces emissions by a further 2.8% (net). Biodiesel has a lower energy content, which means one has to burn more of it. Worst of all, biodiesel is not recommended by diesel engine manufacturers. For a sober review of biodiesel, see this presentation, <a class="jive-link-external" href="http://www.actransit.org/aboutac/bod/memos/193858.pdf" target="_newWindow">http://www.actransit.org/aboutac/bod/memos/193858.pdf</a> , from which the information in this posting is drawn.

Paul Marcelin-Sampson
Santa Cruz, California, USA
Posted by rpms (96 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Statistics are off
The AC Transit presentation used B20 in the comparisons mentioned -- so the 2.8% number is much higher when using B100.
Posted by towfiq (1 comment )
Link Flag
Hybrid and biodiesel are not mutually exclusive concepts
For those who don't understand what a hybrid is, it is important
to note that at its core it is a combination of a combustion
engine and an electric engine. This model can have any kind of a
combustion engine. It could even be an ecodiesel combustion
engine. So, the concepts are not mutually exclusive.

The established goal within the industry is to move to a fuel cell
solution that will produce no emissions. All approaches to get
there (and the final solution) will necessarily have a hybrid
solution. The reason is that in a hybrid solution you are using
several means to recapture energy that is lost by the combustion
engine in the form of electricity. This electricity is stored for
"free" in a battery, which can only power an electric engine.
Rather than using the brakes to slow your car, for example, a
hybrid engine uses a power generator (feels much like down-
shifting in a stick shift) and produces electricity at the same
time.
Posted by furrylogic (1 comment )
Reply Link Flag
No one's going to make an electric / lard car
No one's going to make a car that runs on electricity and lard (excuse me, "biodiesel"). Just like no one's going to make a car that runs on gas, lard, and electricity. Few people would buy either one as well.
Posted by lingsun (482 comments )
Link Flag
Biodiesel is cheaper than gas
Biodiesel is cheaper than gasoline. The fact that it's "green" fuel probably won't afffect too many people who aren't radical environmentalists.
Posted by lingsun (482 comments )
Reply Link Flag
FLAT WRONG
You really need to do your research. Without taxpayer funded subsidies, the cost of biodiesel is AT LEAST 15 cents more per gallon.

From Energy Information Administration:
Unless soybean oil prices decline dramatically, it does not appear that biodiesel can be produced in large quantities at a cost that is competitive with petroleum diesel. The largest market for biodiesel probably will be as a fuel additive, because EPACT requirements are unlikely to increase significantly over the next 20 years. The ultra-low-sulfur diesel program will offer an opportunity for biodiesel as a lubricity additive and perhaps as a cetane booster as well. Biodiesel may also be marketed for applications in which reducing emissions of particulates and unburned hydrocarbons is paramount, such as school and transit buses. Because additives that improve diesel fuel properties can sell for a price above that of the diesel fuel, the cost disadvantage for biodiesel would not be as great in the additive market.
Posted by David Arbogast (1709 comments )
Link Flag
World burns up 80 million barrels/day
Its not possible to produce so much biodiesel
Posted by AbuLafya (86 comments )
Reply Link Flag
ACTION SPEAKS LOUDER THAN WORDS
I THINK THAT IT IS REALLY GREAT THAT THEY ARE STARTING TO BUILD A CAR THAT COULD BE MORE ENVIRONMENTALLY SAFE INSTEAD OF JUST TALKING ABOUT IT.. I AM SURE THAT IT WILL BE A GOOD MANY YEARS BEFORE WE HAVE AN ALTERNATE SOURCE THAN GASOLINE BUT IT IS A COMFORTING THING TO KNOW THAT THEY ARE ACTING INSTEAD OF TALKING AND ALSO WE RELY TOO MUCH ON IMPORTED OIL SO ONCE THEY FIND AN ALTERNATIVE IT WOULD BE A POSITIVE BUT THE MILLION DOLLAR QUESTION- IS THE WORLD READY AND ABLE TO DEAL WITH SOMETHING LIKE THIS?
Posted by val31 (37 comments )
Link Flag
are you sure?
We can produce that much gasoline right now, no prob, even though we're running out. With our current technology, we are actually *overproducing* food! And this food producing technology gets better all the time. There are still many more places where we can grow food, and we are getting better at making more in less space. I see this as a serious possibility for at least the next few decades.
Posted by ryuko098 (12 comments )
Link Flag
Biodiesel can be produced from oil rich Algae. There are several development projects ongoing to use algae grown in industrial effluent (from smoke stacks and sewage), which are then harvested and pressed and the oil converted to biodiesel and glycerine (for soap production).

Here is one:
<a class="jive-link-external" href="http://gas2.org/2008/03/29/first-algae-biodiesel-plant-goes-online-april-1-2008/" target="_newWindow">http://gas2.org/2008/03/29/first-algae-biodiesel-plant-goes-online-april-1-2008/</a>
Posted by jhladun (1 comment )
Link Flag
Hydrogen the future
Sure I am excited about all of this diversity but in the end it's hydrogen powered engines that will rule. You can create the fuel in a solar powered fueling station eliminating the need for a refinery. You can run the cars side by side to power whatever you want because of no exhaust fumes; it's safe, its more the future then biodeisal which seems OK but still pollutive, I also think toxic in other ways because of the inconsistancies causeing alergies etc. It's only I think about 40% less emissive thenm oil but naturally the big companies will want o promote biodeisal because it's harder to make and not as efficient. $$$
Still a great start and whatever works at the moment as long as they clean up that air and stop overopoulation.
Posted by Blito (436 comments )
Reply Link Flag
No, it's not
Because Hydrogen makes things brittle and causes them to fall apart. So you'll end up creating a huge tax on the environment because you'll have to replace your parts every year.
Posted by airbns (32 comments )
Link Flag
Something else is the future
Back in WWII, the Germans were using rare earth catalysts to extend the milage of diesel engines in U-boats. I've also heard of diesel engines that run on mixtures of oil and water, and on water alone. (energy is releases when you break apart water molecules). The problem with them is that you have to run them fast and hot in order to get them to the point where they can break the strong hydrogen oxygen bond in water, so they tend to break down. This would seem to me to be an easier solved problem than the hydrogen embrittlement problem.
Posted by airbns (32 comments )
Link Flag
Alternative Fuel Hybrid?
OK, so we can use other fuels that pollute less. We can make engines that get much better gas mileage. Why not combine these things with a hybrid system to further the benefits?

Ok, sorry, it was too obvious....
Posted by zaznet (1138 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Used Vegetable Oil
Restaurants have to pay service providers to dispose of it. I save them money, by taking it for free, and all I have to do is filter it twice.

My conversion cost me $5oo, I spend 1 half hour filtering a full tank and my mileage is about the same......screw the diesel, although I still have to run it until I get the vegetable warmed up.
Posted by ScullyB (47 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Hydrogen Myth vs. Battery Reality
I've never seen any store selling hydrogen, but I've seen lots of electricity outlets in my friend's homes. I've never heard of a fuel cell car in production, but they've been making electric cars for over a century. Granted, until the last 10 years batteries have been very heavy and slow to charge. But now that battery technology is advancing so quickly, I think its time to bring the debate to a conclusion. Electric power is cleaner, simpler, cheaper. If GM and Ford won't build them, then the Asians will.
Posted by ContraContrarian (6 comments )
Reply Link Flag
The many problems of your "Battery Reality"
Electric cars also pollute.

First there is the toxic chemicals of the battery themselves. Imagine having to replace your car engine every 2 or 3 years. All of that being toxic waste every time you replace it. This is also going to be a problem for many Hybrid vehicles that rely on a lot of battery packs to store energy.

Second problem is in how the electricity is produced. There are power plants that still run off coal and that is a heavy polluter. Nuclear power plants are not much better with their hot water byproducts that destroy the habitat of any stream they send that heated water to.

We have a hard time now keeping up with the current power demands of some cities and regions. Add vehicles to the demand and you will see larger energy conservation efforts at the power meter as well as cities unable to sustain the demands.

Electric cars don't show their signs of pollution as directly as do any fuel powered vehicle, but they still pollute plenty.
Posted by zaznet (1138 comments )
Link Flag
Electric just don't get it!
The problem is one of thermodynamics. Simply stated, whenever you have a change of state, say from potential to thermal some of the energy becomes unavailable. It is called entropy and it always increases (without the input of more energy).

In the internal combustion engine it goes from chemical to thermal to mechanical and it is fairly efficient. Around 30%.

With electric vehicles the process has many more steps. The fuel (what ever it may be) still has to be consumed and this is essentially the same as internal combustion (thermodynamically speaking). It is the additional conversions that drive the efficiency into the ground.

First is mechanical to electrical (generator) then transmission losses (power lines) , then electrical to chemical (charge the battery), then storage loss, then convert chemical back to electrical (discharge the battery), and finally electrical to mechanical (make the car go).

With all these transitions the entropy increase becomes substantial. Adding it all up shows that electric cars take 3 to 5 times as much energy to operate as internal combustion ones (at the same level of performance).

And where is all this additional energy going to come from? Only one place, nuclear. It is not at all surprising that some of the biggest names in nuclear power are the biggest supporters of electric cars.

There is another problem that no one talks about and that is distribution. Our current system is taxed to the limit on days of high energy use.

Imagine what would happen if, in addition to the air conditioners, TVs, washers, etc. everyone came home and plugged in their electric car. The system would fry like a crack heads brain. And where is all this additional infrastructure going to come from? Why the same people who built the power plants.

Electric cars are a market hoax brought to you by the same people that gave us three mile island.
Posted by Mister C (423 comments )
Link Flag
Hydrogen embrittlement....
.... this used to be a rather serious problem leading to storage tank
fractures and engine failures. I have never heard that any one has
solved the embrittlement problem. If not, Hydrogen is not going to
be a useful fuel.
Posted by Earl Benser (4310 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Finally someone with a clue
When I first heard about hydrogen cars and fuel cells becoming the rage, I just laughed. You're right, hydrogen is a big problem.
Posted by airbns (32 comments )
Link Flag
HE
Prevention or Remedial Action

1. Internal cracking or blistering

Use of steel with low levels of impurities (i.e. sulfur and phosphorus).

Modifying environment to reduce hydrogen charging.

Use of surface coatings and effective inhibitors.

2. Hydrogen embrittlement

Use of lower strength (hardness) or high resistance alloys.

Careful selection of materials of construction and plating systems.

Heat treatment to remove absorbed hydrogen.

3. High temperature hydrogen attack

Selection of material (for steels, use of low and high alloy Cr-Mo steels;

Selected Cu alloys; non-ferrous alloys).

Limit temperature and partial pressure H2.

<a class="jive-link-external" href="http://www.corrosionsource.com/handbook/CPS/cps_a_hic.htm" target="_newWindow">http://www.corrosionsource.com/handbook/CPS/cps_a_hic.htm</a>
Posted by Mister C (423 comments )
Link Flag
Biodiesel not clean!
Burning biodiesel contributes considerable greenhouse gas emissions. It is dirtier than hybrids and even efficient gas-only engines. The only 'no greenhouse' machines are battery-electric (GM EV1, Toyota RAV4 EV) and fuel cell (although making hydrogen generates more greenhouse gases than burning it will save.)
Posted by hewman1 (1 comment )
Reply Link Flag
Electric is also dirty.....
.... unless the power comes from nuclear, hydro, wind, or
geothermal power plants.
Posted by Earl Benser (4310 comments )
Link Flag
Fuel Cell Catalyst Limitations?
I hope someone can confirm this, but I have heard that Fuel Cells
have a serious limitation. In order for a fuel cell to work, it requires
a catalyst, and the only catalyst that presently works is platnium. If
this is true, then there couldn't possibly be enough platnium in the
world to make enough fuel cells so that all of our cars wouldn't
need internal combustion engines.
Posted by mikeathome11 (1 comment )
Reply Link Flag
no... really there could...
... we're not talking a lot of platinum.
Posted by rafe01 (19 comments )
Link Flag
Honda Civic
Funny thing about this wonderful new Honda Civic hybrid and its 50 miles to the gallon: wasn't Honda making a Civic that got 50 miles to the gallon *before* hybrid technology came around? (yes) So what's the benefit? And aren't you creating a lot of environmental baggage with the batteries and pocket-book baggage with the extra cost for the hybrid, all for the same milage?

When I first started reading about Toyota and Honda developing hybrids, their prototypes being road tested were getting 80 and 90 miles to the gallon. I have a hard time believing that a vehicle that is street legal for road testing is going to lose that much milage when it goes into production. Something just doesn't seem right here...
Posted by airbns (32 comments )
Reply Link Flag
I want more MPG
What we need is PlugIn Hybrids!

&lt;href="http://www.PlugInAlliance.com&gt;www.PlugInAlliance.com</a>
Posted by Yet Another Mark Johnson (66 comments )
Reply Link Flag
How To Easily Increase Your gas Milage Today!
The gas pump right down the street just hit $3.59/Gallon and at this rate does not to be slowing down any time soon.

I have been checking into several different products that claim to get you better gas mileage and help improve emissions at the same time.(another subject on our clean air) and have found the results quite interesting.

There are approx. 4 or 5 floating around on the Internet right now that have all had some degree of Success.
All but one of these products are all made with a petroleum based product and considered an additive to your fuel mixture that helps boost the octane of the fuel.
Some of these products come in a pill form that you just drop into your tank as your filling up, but there have been several report's that they do not dissolve completely and have been known to clog your filter's etc,.

The other product that I found does everything (and more) for your vehicle. It is the Only One that is made from a mineral base and is 100% Environmentally Safe and Non Toxic.

The U.S. Military as we'll as several other Country's are now using this product on a wide scale for their vehicle's, Helicopters and even mixed with Jet Fuel.

This is also the only product with all patented rights that you can add into your crankcase(Oil) and it will clean and restore your Horsepower back to it's Original Condition.

They have been featured on several Major News Stations as they conducted 3rd party tests on Live T.V. as to how we'll this actually works when mixed with you fuel and oil.
If you would like to watch these clips, click here: <a class="jive-link-external" href="http://mmgurl.com/efuel" target="_newWindow">http://mmgurl.com/efuel</a>

Yes- in the future it's a given that we will all be using some sort of alternate fuels, but until then, maybe we should focus on "NOW". What can each and everyone of us do right now to get the Best Gas Mileage Possible and Help cut down Our Emissions Considerably?

This may not be the cure all to our problems, but "RIGHT NOW" this is the Best Alternative our current Technology has to offer. There is already Millions of Miles of documented evidence that proves this stuff works and will pay for itself and Save You Money.
Posted by bucks777 (8 comments )
Reply Link Flag
 

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