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James R. Cochran

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Carbon dioxide emissions from the new cars are continuously reducing. This has been possible thanks to the continous efforts of the vehicle manufacturers who have contributed to the fall of 4.7% of new car CO2 emissions in the first half of 2010 itself compared to the previous year. This data has been released by the Society of Motor manufacturers and Traders.

In June, the data shows that the average for the new vehicles emissions were reduced to 145.2 grams/kilometers. The increase in sales of alternatively fuelled cars and hybrids have a major role in the achievement of this figure.

Manufacturers have developed engines that produces less CO2 emissions and provide more efficiency. The rise is fuel prices and the concern to the global climatic issues are the main reasons for consumers to want cars which run more and smoke less.

“Continued vehicle manufacturer efforts to improve fuel efficiency and cut emissions has further reduced average CO2 output during a better than anticipated first half of 2010,” said Paul Everitt, SMMT chief executive

More and more cars are on the road every day, and it is estimated that more than a billion cars will be on the roads by the year 2020. With more and more cars hitting the roads each year, many people are beginning to look for greener options for their vehicles; in fact, governments are even beginning to put pressure on car manufacturers to develop cars that are friendlier to the environment.

While in the past green cars were something that most people only dreamed about, today there are a variety of options available for those who are looking for a car that is environmentally friendly.

Several Different Technology Choices

Today as more and more people become environmentally conscious, there are a variety of greener alternatives that are beginning to show up in show rooms in the United States and even in Europe. For those looking for a car that runs green, there are now several different technology choices to consider, including alternative fuels, battery cars, and of courses the ever popular hybrids.

  • Alternate Fuels – Perhaps the most futuristic technology when it comes to vehicle propulsion is alternative fuels used in fuel cells, which actually happens to be the cleanest form of vehicle transportation. Several car manufacturers are investigating hydrogen powered vehicles as well as cars that are powered by ethanol instead of gasoline. Vehicles with fuel cells have great potential, although it has not been fully explored. In the past infrastructure for these fuels have been a barrier to their product, but Honda has recently opened a station in California that actually is a hydrogen fueling station. Their goal is to show how alternative fuels can perform, offering consumers a new way to look at transportation.
  • Battery Cars – Another type of technology that is employed when it comes to green cars is the electric battery. Actually battery cars have a long and extensive history, and they have been researched for some time. However, it has only been recently that they have shown to be viable in the mass vehicle market. As battery technology continues to improve, more cars are being introduced into the market with battery technology. There are many green advantages to battery operated cars, including great energy efficiency and no pollution; however, until recently they have been very limited, both in speed and electric charging.
  • Hybrids – When it comes to cars that are friendly to the environment, the most popular and promising technology is the hybrid technology. Hybrids are unique, in that they use electric motors and an internal combustion engine as well. Fuel efficiency is boosted, since the electric motor can take over and help to lower the usage of fuel. Since the electric motor offers support, the gasoline engine is a lot smaller and much more efficient as well. In fact, in parts of travel, the gasoline engine may shut down altogether. The energy from the gas engine also helps to charge the battery, so you don’t have to worry about recharging it, like you have to with electric battery cars, and the emissions are significantly lower than other gas powered vehicles. Probably the two most popular hybrid cars on the market today include the Toyota Prius and the Honda Insight.

Greener Cars for 2007 and 2008

Today there are a variety of options available when it comes to green cars. There are far more options than there were a few years ago. So, let’s take a closer look at some of the cars that have the best green performance in 2007 and 2008.

One of the greenest cars out there on the market today is the Toyota Prius. This car has a pair of electric motors along with a four cylinder engine. The Prius has the best fuel economy of any mass market car in the United States. The Honda Insight is fairly close to the Prius as well, and also has a lot to offer. You’ll also find that another great car for the environment is the Smart For Two car. It is a small car that only needs a very small motor – a 3 cylinder engine, which gets about 33 mpg around town.

The Nissan Altima Hybrid is also an excellent car which is friendly to the environment and is tuned to get great fuel economy in the city.

Of course these are just a few of the environmental cars that are now available on the market for purchase. It is easy to see that the technology around greener vehicles is ever expanding, and no doubt in the next few years, you will continue to see great strides made in this area of technology as well.

The domination of petrol variants will soon come to an end. A new era of highly efficient and less emission diesel engines are developed which will soon help the diesel variants dominate. The BlueMotion technology from Volkswagen is one of those technologies that have helped reduce emissions.

Volkswagen new MPV, the VW Touran has hit British shores and it looks promising. The Touran was first unveiled at the Leipzig Motor show in April. The Touran comes with a range of petrol and innovative diesel engines. It also comes in the BlueMotion technology form.

The Touran is priced between 17,585 – 25,535 Euros. The new Touran is bigger, better and has a lot of new features. The Touran derives the design from the new Polo, Golf and Touareg. The new Touran gets alloy wheels and touches of chrome everywhere.

The VW Touran comes with a range of new engines. The Petrol variants are the 1.2L TSI giving 105 bhp and the 1.4L TSI giving 140bhp or a greater 170 bhp. The diesel variants are the 1.6L TDI that produces 90bhp and 105bhp and a 2.0L TDI engine that produces 140bhp or 170bhp.

Only the 1.6L TDI and the 1.2L TSI engine is capable in BlueMotion Trim. The 1.2L is capable of returning 47.9 mpg while emitting 139 g/km of CO2. The 1.6L TDI is capable of returning 58.8 mpg while emitting only 121 g/km of CO2.

The Volkswagen Touran have been selling really well in the Europe. With the introduction of the new one, it will hope to sell more and perform better while harming the enviromnent less. This is exactly what Volkswagen wants the Touran to do. Only time will tell us if it does live up to its expectations.

Unique portrait of the 2008 FIA Formula OneTM World Drivers Champion commissioned for National Oil Check Week

Reigning 2008 FIA Formula OneTM World Drivers’ Champion, Lewis Hamilton, became one of the most pictured British sportsmen in the world when he became the youngest driver to win the title.

But none of the portraits of the 24-year old links him so completely to his sport as this stunning portrait in oil, commissioned to kick off National Oil Check Week….Because the twist is that the oil used is Mobil 1 race oil taken directly from the Vodafone McLaren Mercedes car in which Lewis won last year’s British Grand Prix at Silverstone.

Mobil 1, technology partner to Hamilton’s Vodafone McLaren Mercedes team, charged US artist David Macaluso with the creation of the picture of Lewis in typically triumphant pose to celebrate his title success and highlight Mobil’s role in the UK-wide car maintenance initiative (www.CheckYourOil.co.uk), which kicks off next Monday, June 15.

A limited run of 50 prints of the painting has also been made and one of these special pieces of memorabilia can be won in a competition at www.mobil-1.co.uk in the run-up to the British GP.

The painting will have its first public outing at the ExxonMobil VIP customer event, on the eve of Hamilton’s home Grand Prix at Silverstone.

2008 FIA Formula OneTM World Drivers’ Champion Lewis Hamilton comments: “I’m very impressed with the oil painting. I’ve always known that the Mobil 1 in my race car is an important component that can give us an edge over our rivals in some circumstances, but I’d never have guessed you could use it to paint with; the oil gives this picture a unique look and feel…”

Macaluso, an expert in the use of motor oil as a painting medium, said: “I’ve been recycling used motor oil into paintings since 2005, so it was exciting to do a portrait of Lewis, and it was a privilege. When people look at my portrait of Lewis Hamilton, I want them to know it contains the Mobil 1 that circulated inside his Mercedes-Benz engine. History was made by Hamilton with this oil, and to experience this painting is to be eye-to-eye with that history.

“Painting with the Mobil 1 used motor oil offered a wide range of tones and was obviously a very refined product from its texture. It was extremely smooth and very particle-rich, with all the engine dirt in perpetual suspension, making for a great painting medium.”

Mobil 1 UK marketing manager, Gary Plumridge, said: “Lewis’s World Championship win last season was the fifth Formula 1 drivers’ title Mobil has won but it was perhaps the most satisfying because of the thrilling manner in which the title was decided.

“We wanted to create something that celebrates Lewis’s spectacular triumph but also highlights the vital role that Mobil 1 plays in the performance and protection of any engine.”

National Oil Check Week (www.CheckYourOil.co.uk) was set up by Comma Oil, owned by ExxonMobil, to encourage the UK’s 35 million motorists to carry out basic car maintenance tasks like checking oil levels, after it was revealed that 17% of UK drivers were risking an average repair bill of £1,413 by never checking their oil, while a staggering 1 in 5 cars on the road has so little oil in the engine that it is perilously close to suffering a catastrophic breakdown.

Mobil 1 pledged its support to the National Oil Check Week campaign along with Esso service stations and Halfords, the UK’s leading car parts and accessories store.

Volkswagen’s technologically advanced 2.0 Liter turbodiesel was recognized as a 2009 10 Best Engine by Ward’s Automotive Group. The all-new 2.0L clean diesel TDI engine features common rail injection and is the first of a new generation of dynamic and efficient diesel engines from Volkswagen.

“We’re pleased that Ward’s has recognized our advanced 2.0-liter clean diesel engine as one of their 2009 10 Best Engines,” said Stefan Jacoby, CEO, Volkswagen Group of America. “The all-new 2.0L turbodiesel engine is not only the first of its kind to be emissions-compliant in all 50 states, but perhaps the most technically refined powerplant of its kind in the world.”

As the pioneering entry in the new era of clean diesel in North America, the new TDI engine technology in the Jetta sedan and SportWagen meets the United States most stringent emissions control standard — California’s Tier II/Bin 5 — without the use of urea injection. Additionally, the technology enables 20- to 40-percent better fuel efficiency than gasoline engines with comparable acceleration and significantly better torque.

When compared with gasoline/electric hybrid applications, the new clean diesel TDI enables comparable fuel efficiency with better performance and proven long-term durability. In terms of cost, the clean diesel TDI-equipped Jetta sedan — which went on sale in September of 2008 in the U.S. — has a starting price that’s significantly less than the most popular similar-sized gas/electric hybrids sold, and there are no batteries to replace over the life of the vehicle.

“The TDI clean diesel technology truly enables a no compromises alternative fuel driving experience,” said Jacoby. “They’re clean, efficient, quiet and affordable without sacrificing what every driver wants: performance that makes motoring flat-out fun.

“The joy of driving — along with affordable technology — has always been part of the Volkswagen promise, and these new clean diesel TDIs are just the latest example of how we’ll continue to fulfill that promise.”

In response to the U.S. federal mandate for Ultra Low Sulfur Diesel (ULSD), Volkswagen has been able to greatly reduce nitrous oxide (NOx) and particulate emissions on its clean diesel TDI engines through use of three key technologies: a common rail direct injection system; piezo fuel injectors; and an advanced exhaust system aftertreatment system. The result is a reduction of NOx and particulate emissions by up to 90-percent; exceptional noise and vibration harshness performance; and fuel efficiency on par with more complex and expensive gas/electric hybrid systems.

Unlike other clean diesel engines which use a urea injection system to convert NOx to nitrogen and water, the TDI Clean Diesel uses a NOx-storage catalyst, which is basically a reservoir that temporarily holds the noxious emissions, like a particulate filter, until they can be burned off during one of the engine cycles. A common-rail direct-injection system — used instead of a traditional mechanical system — incorporates piezoelectric fuel injectors. Combined, this technology permits higher injection pressures, which better atomize the fuel and make it easier to control pollution with a leaner, more efficient burn within the combustion chamber.

The piezoelectric injectors also enable a quick on/off feature that enables engineers greater leeway in spray timing and density, which in turn greatly reduces noise and vibration — e.g. “knock” — commonly associated with diesel engines of the last century.

Volkswagen of America, Inc.

Founded in 1955, Volkswagen of America, Inc. is headquartered in Herndon, Virginia. It is a subsidiary of Volkswagen AG, headquartered in Wolfsburg, Germany. Volkswagen is one of the world’s largest producers of passenger cars and Europe’s largest automaker. Volkswagen sells the Eos, Rabbit, New Beetle, New Beetle convertible, GTI, Jetta, Jetta SportWagen, GLI, Passat, Passat wagon, CC, Tiguan, Touareg 2 and Routan through approximately 600 independent U.S. dealers. All 2009 Volkswagens come standard-equipped with Electronic Stabilization Program. This is important because the National Highway and Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has called ESC the most effective new vehicle safety technology since the safety belt. Visit Volkswagen of America online at vw.com or www.media.vw.com to learn more.

UK’s first hydrogen fuel station has opened at Birmingham University, despite a shortage of potential customers.

The station is the first of 12 outlets planned to open nationwide by 2010 and will serve a campus fleet of five fuel-cell cars. It’s the first part of the infrastructure needed to support the far-off prospect of hydrogen-powered cars in the UK.

The vehicles are part of the university’s own fleet, and will allow engineering researchers to learn more about their efficiency and cost-effectiveness.

Professor Kevin Kendall from the University explained the reasoning behind the station: “It is absolutely necessary that we have the means to refuel our fleet of hydrogen-powered cars so that we can carry out our research into the feasibility of hydrogen in a transport context.”

Air Products installed the fuel station and also recently announced that it is working with Transport for London (TfL) to build fuel stations for a fleet of 70 hydrogen-powered vehicles being introduced from next year.

Meanwhile, the hydrogen itself will be provided by Green Gases Ltd, which manufactures the gas using renewable biomass energy, an approach the university claims will ensure that both the manufacturing process and use of the fuel cells will result in no carbon emissions.

Further growth is expected, with perhaps 12 hydrogen filling stations around the UK by 2010, raising the possibility of commercial production of cars powered by fuel cells.

The folks over at PlanetThoughts are sponsoring Super-Cars Shout Out Competition as a way to recognize eco-conscious citizens fight against climate change by driving a high-mileage car.

The concept is simple:

  1. Find high mileage cars in your area. PT has a list of high-mileage cars (>40 mpg…)
  2. Place the PlanetThoughts flyer on the windshield and take a picture of the car.
  3. Send it in to PlanetThoughts.
  4. Click here for full details.

We all want to do what we can to reduce the global warming gases that get emitted, especially in our own areas of living and working, where we have the most direct influence. To add another dimension, it would be great to congratulate others who are doing something to help the environment.

To offer your congratulations, print off one of the contest’s flyers, place on a high-mileage car you encounter in your day-to-day activities, take a picture, and upload it to PlanetThoughts. The winner will receive a cash prize of at least $500 (see below). Car owners whose vehicles appear on the site also have a chance at some cash: contact the folks at PT if your car appears in a contest photo, and you’ll be entered into a monthly drawing for $50. The contest runs through the Labor Day.

PlanetThoughts

Despite the recent increase in news coverage of global warming, main stream media generally provides their audience with little more than surface information addressing global environmental issues. Further, the vital issues of energy availability, “peak oil” and of resource depletion are rarely mentioned. This failure has real consequences in a world that must immediately confront and plan for these mounting challenges. It is essential that the vast majority of the citizenry be informed on these issues as they are unprecedented in the scope and depth of their impact on daily life.

PlanetThoughts.org is organized around the environmental aspects of this converging crisis. These issues underlie many of the immediate challenges that global society faces. PlanetThoughts.org believes that the path to a solution lies first in better understanding of the environmental basis for these conditions, followed by and in parallel with collective action to change government policies and societal attitudes.

Their Web site (www.planetthoughts.org) provides focused environment information with positive energy and insight, for concerned individuals around the world. The specific means for this include news items, blog entries, quotes, reviews, stories, and tips. They refer to these items as “PlanetThoughts”.

We hope you will join their community early and often, with an eye towards a positive future for us all. Clear information is the first step toward creating a population of citizen leaders committed to protecting and bettering the world’s environment

In today’s post, we’ll review if recent attention given to Synthetic Methanol is worth pursuing as a viable long term fuel alternative.

Synthetic methanol’s green credentials arise from its potential to be completely CO2 neutral. The most likely future mass-production of the fuel is by using electrochemical techniques to combine oxygen, hydrogen and carbon:

  • Carbon could be sourced from carbon dioxide recovered from the atmosphere using either large scale extraction facilities or biomass.
  • Oxygen would be taken from the atmosphere already contained in the CO2 molecule.
  • Hydrogen would be acquired through the electrolysis of water; challenges remain in the electrical power required; in a green future, this could be supplied from renewable sources, an issue already being addressed by supporters of hydrogen as a fuel.
  • Synthetic methanol can also be supplemented by production from biomass sources where properly sustainable.
  • Methanol can be produced easily from a wide variety of feedstocks.

Synthetic methanol – How to make it?

Techniques for the production of synthetic methanol through the extraction of atmospheric CO2 are well developed and understood but are not being employed on an industrial scale. An early solution would be the co-location of a nuclear or hydroelectric powerplant with a conventional power station – the hydrogen generated by hydrolysis of water would be combined with CO2 from either fossil or biomass sources to make liquid methanol. In the future, large volumes of CO2 could be extracted directly from the atmosphere.

Synthetic methanol – easy to adopt?

As well as being green, another crucial advantage of synthetic methanol is that it can be introduced relatively simply. As the Exige 270E Tri-fuel demonstrates, only small changes to engines are required, such as:

  • Sensors to detect alcohol content
  • Modified software for engine management control driving alcohol/gasoline, flex fuel and fuel systems operations.
  • Fuel lines compatible with alcohol fuels
  • Higher flow rate fuel pump and injectors
  • Fuel tank material, compatible with alcohol

In addition, as a liquid, which is miscible with gasoline, synthetic methanol can be transported; stored and sold to motorists exactly as today’s liquid fuels are, with only minor modifications.

Synthetic methanol – a performance fuel?

Synthetic methanol is better suited to spark-ignition combustion than today’s liquid fuels, delivering better performance and thermal efficiencies, due to its higher octane rating giving it better resistance to ‘knock’. As a result, it is a fuel that will benefit the motorists in terms of driving experience. For example, the Exige 270E Tri-fuel is quicker to 60mph from standstill and has a higher top speed when using 100% synthetic methanol fuel than with conventional gasoline. Synthetic methanol is also ideally suited to pressure-charging, a trend already well underway as car makers look to downsize engines to reduce fuel consumption.

Synthetic methanol – the way forward

Lotus Engineering regards sustainable alcohols as the third step in a process towards carbon neutral driving. The current E85 (85% ethanol and 15% gasoline) based movement represents the first stage in building momentum towards sustainable fuels. The valuable learning from the current bioethanol vehicles on the market means that synthetic methanol would easily be managed technically and within the existing transport, storage and distribution infrastructure. The steps towards a synthetic methanol economy for transportation fuels could be as follows:

  • 1st Generation:   There is a handful of current bioethanol models on sale around the world. These cars run on E85 bioethanol, which is produced from valuable arable crops (food). This is unsustainable in the short and medium term as global demand for fuel will outstrip the supply available from farmland to the detriment of food production, but is a necessary step in the evolution of the market.
  • 2nd Generation:  The next generation bioethanol fuels will be based on biomass waste, for example crop stubble, waste vegetable-based oils and any biodegradable waste matter. This is thought also to be unsustainable in the medium to long term as the required volume of biomass increases beyond that
    which can be supplied.
  • 3rd Generation:  Sustainable alcohols such as synthetic methanol can be introduced due to its miscibility with ethanol and gasoline. This fuel can be produced from entirely sustainable, readily available inputs, with an environmentally neutral overall impact.
  • 4th Generation:  Direct Methanol Fuel Cells: over the longer term, sustainable alcohols in internal combustion will facilitate the soft introduction of direct methanol fuel cells as a long term sustainable future fuel. This will only be possible with pure methanol pumps on the forecourt which internal combustion engines can bring forward due to their ability to consume a mixture of fuels.

Lotus Engineering strongly believes governments, fuel suppliers and car manufacturers have a key role to play in the adoption of sustainable alcohols as a future green fuel.

If car manufacturers were incentivised to produce next generation models for introduction over the next 5 to 10 years as flex-fuel vehicles capable of running on any mix of gasoline and bioethanol, there would be no need for an unfeasible instant global changeover. Late software changes can permit the introduction of methanol and fortunately, E85 bioethanol and subsequently synthetic methanol can be introduced gradually to the marketplace, due to their miscibility.

Should fuel suppliers increase the industrial-scale production of synthetic methanol, it could be introduced to forecourts across the globe within 15-20 years and eventually become a global standard.

In front of 210.000 visitors the bioethanol powered Volvo S40 from HEICO SPORTIV reached the finishing line at 35th ADAC 24h-race Nürburgring.

Already in the time training session the drivers trio Patrick Brenndörfer (30, Darmstadt), Frank Eickholt (35, Bottrop) and Martin Mülller (38, Griesheim) convinced by their 10:09.136 minutes for a lap around the 25,378 kilometers Grand Prix course plus Nordschleife. That was the pole position within the strong occupied class “S2″ for alternative fuels.

Caused by a thunderstorm the 220 cars have been sent on the trip with a delay of 112 minutes. Race manager Hans Schnock (Golzheim) has started the race at 16:52 after two formation laps. Brenndörfer could improve his total position from 68 to 41 during heavy rain period. That was the first job for the new prototype rain tires PROXES RR1 from TOYO TIRES. After this successful turn, the car was handed over to HEICO colleague Martin Müller, who was on the track now with slicks.

But the forward drive was stopped abrupt, Müller came into the pits after four rounds with overheated engine. A not perfect working water pump than was the reason for a precautionary change of the 5-cylinder turbo engine.

After this change in record time the car number 272 went back into the “18h race” clearly behind all others. Position after position the dull blue HEICO HS4 ODIN came forward – until the race management was forced for safety reasons, to stop the race at 3:54 with the red flagg. Heavy tight fog was covering the “Green Hell” at some sections leaving not enough sight to continue the race safely.

volvo-heico-2

Only after nearly 6 hours enforced break, the race was re-started for the last “7,5h sprint”. The 340hp powerful Volvo with BioFormula85 fuel from Brüggemann Alcohol has proved its potential by lap-times within the 40 fastes cars, but the race was too short, to reach the aimed top place.

Shortly before 17:00 a.m. the final driver Brenndörfer crossed the finishing line. For the team it was the end of the most curious 24h races ever and was bringing the Volvo for the fourth time in series undamaged over the finish-line. In spite of the early loss of time – the race can be booked under success, because by the pole position and constantly fast laps HEICO SPORTIV has demonstrated that todays racing cars are competitive at the worlds hardest long distance race, also with alternative fuels.

MOUNTAIN VIEW, Calif., June 18 — Google and Pacific Gas & Electric have unveiled their vision of a future in which cars and trucks are partly powered by the country’s electric grids, and vice versa.
The companies displayed on Monday six Toyota Prius and Ford Escape hybrid vehicles modified to run partly on electricity from the power grid, allowing the vehicles to go up to 75 miles on a gallon of gas, nearly double the number of miles of a regular hybrid. They also modified one vehicle to give electricity back to the power company.

The highly unusual test takes the hybrid, which is now familiar on American roads, a step further by using extra batteries to hold energy made and distributed by a power company. The technology is eagerly awaited by energy experts and environmentalists, but is not yet ready to go commercial because the additional batteries are not yet durable enough.

Google’s philanthropic foundation, Google.org, headed by Larry Brilliant, led the conversion and announced that it would be investing or giving away about $10 million to accelerate the development of battery technology, plug-in hybrids, and vehicles capable of returning stored energy to the grid.

Speaking on a sun-splashed dais in Google’s parking lot to an audience well shaded by one of its new solar arrays, Mr. Brilliant described the vehicle designed to give energy back to the grid as “a bit of a science project.”

But some observers, like the Stanford professor Stephen Schneider, who was one of the authors of the recent United Nations report on climate change, said that just getting this embryonic technology demonstrated by a company with Google’s heft was a victory in itself. “These guys have clout with hundreds of millions of young and middle-aged people,” he said, adding that what was necessary to jump-start a new type of car was a combination of reliability, affordability and “cool.”

The six vehicles are used by Google employees near the company’s Mountain View headquarters, and sit under a carport with a roof of solar cells. The cells are connected to the power grid, so they make energy whether the cars are charging or not. Dan Reicher, Google.org’s director for climate change and energy initiatives, said the carports were meant to demonstrate a switch from fossil fuels to solar power.

Google is using batteries from A123Systems of Watertown, Mass., a company that sells an aftermarket kit to convert the Prius to a plug-in vehicle.

The Prius that has been converted to allow two-way flows of electricity is a more speculative project. PG&E, the utility serving Northern California, will send wireless signals to the car while it is parked and plugged in to determine its state of charge. It can then recharge the batteries or draw out power.

The transactions will be tiny, a few kilowatt-hours at a time, worth a few cents each, but if there were thousands of such vehicles, a utility could store power produced in slack hours until it was needed at peak times, said Brad Whitcomb, PG&E’s vice president for customer products and services.

Some researchers say that utilities pay billions a year to power plants to stand by, ready to produce extra power or to provide small quantities of energy to maintain the frequency of the system at precisely 60 cycles a second. Plug-in hybrids could fill those roles, annually earning thousands of dollars each, some experts say.

But if a car gave all of its energy back to the grid, it would be left to run on gasoline, giving up the environmental benefit.

A plug-in hybrid can lower emissions of carbon dioxide and smog-causing gases. It can go three to four miles on a kilowatt-hour, experts say. If that electricity came from natural gas, that may mean under a quarter-pound of carbon dioxide is emitted each mile. In contrast, a car that gets 20 miles a gallon on unleaded gas emits about a pound of carbon dioxide each mile.