(This story was first published on the blog Green Center. Click here for more stories.)
This wasn't your typical auto show in our Nation's Capital. Not when the major car makers are trying to out-green each other instead of out-gas-guzzle their competitors. Heck, even Cadillac was showing off a Hybrid version of the Escalade.
Of course, GM was happily showing off their new clean, green Michigan machine -- the plug-in hybrid electric Chevy Volt. And not to be left out, Ford was grinning over its all-electric Ford Focus. Downstairs Nissan was beaming over its 100 miles-to-a-charge, zero tailpipe emissions Nissan Leaf. And not to be outdone, Toyota was offering test drives of its popular Prius brand, which started the whole hybrid craze.
I took a spin around the Washington Convention Center neighborhood of Mount Vernon Square in a 2010 Prius with professional driver Jeff Andretti, who told me that he has heard testimonies of people getting 55-60 miles per gallon highway and up to 70 mpg in the city with their Prius. That means very few trips to the big bad gas pump and more money in their pockets.
Tafara Brumbeck, a product specialist at Chevrolet, went over the many benefits of the Volt, including the fact that it is the only EV that you can plug into a standard 110 or 120 volt outlet. And of course the range extending gas generator that allows you to travel hundreds of extra miles beyond the 40 miles you get on a charge.
And if you charge the Volt at night during off-peak hours it will only cost about $1.50 a day for a charge, which is about the same as your standard refrigerator and freezer. So that comes out to roughly $40 a month to charge up the Volt or the Leaf, as compared to the average $40 a week most American spends on gasoline. So you are talking about a potential savings of $120 a month and $1440 a year. Brumbeck told me that the mpge, or miles per gallon equivalent, on a single charge is 93 mpge. And even in range extending mode it is a solid 37 mpge, which combined make for an incredibly fuel efficient vehicle.
I asked about the General Electric charging station on display and Brumbeck informed me that GE is currently working with a number of utility companies to make EVs a nationwide and global phenomenon.
"More charging stations will make it more convenient for everybody and continue this trend of electric vehicles," said Brumbeck.
Michael White of the Electric Vehicle Association of Washington, D.C. helped to dispel some common myths about electric vehicles. He said the group was founded in 1985 because they weren't going to wait for industry and the government to get us off our oil dependency and wanted to educate people about the many benefits of owning an electric vehicle.
White said one of the biggest myths he has to correct is that electric cars are simply taking pollution from the tailpipe to the power plant.
"Technically that is true until you realize the reason electricity is cheaper at night is because they have to generate 24/7, it's just not being used. The utilities have excess capacity at night to charge like four million cars," said White. "When you look at it like that, power plants are a bit more efficient than cars." He added that many utilities are integrating more renewable energy sources into the power grid as well. For example, Pacific Gas & Electric maintains the largest private hydroelectric power system in the country.
Another popular exhibit in the cavernous building was the one featuring actual biomass, which looks like a bundle of hay. Novozymes North America spokesperson Jason Blake said the Danish company was showing how it is investing in renewable, sustainable biosolutions.
"We're here today to try to educate the public about the benefits of second generation cellolosic ethanol," said Blake. He said there is a lot of agricultural reside left on different farming locations that can be used for fuel. There is a lot of leftover sugars in corn stover, wood chips and even trash and waste that can be fermented into ethanol.
Blake said the biomass on display was made of corn stems, leaves and even some corn cobs all rolled up. At one ton, this biomass can be converted into 100 U.S. gallons of ethanol.
"What we are trying to demonstrate today is that getting access to these types of agricultural residue can create biofuels that decrease our reliance on foreign oil, help the domestic economy, bring jobs back to America as well as bring a better world around us because the CO2 emissions from this particular ethanol is a reduction of about 90 percent of greenhouse gas emissions," said Blake.