SciTechBlog
March 20, 2009

California regulators rile ethanol producers

Posted: 12:52 PM ET
Some ethanol producers are unhappy with California's proposed low carbon fuel standards.
Some ethanol producers are unhappy with California's proposed low carbon fuel standards.

California wants to take a big-picture look at decreasing carbon emissions from transportation, and in doing so, it has managed to step on some toes, mainly some ethanol producers. Since California is often a trend-setter on these type of things, this case could be a good example of what the rest of us might see in our own states down the road.

Biofuels play a big role in this, but it’s the way they’re doing it that has some people riled up. I’m a biofuel fan myself and have two vehicles (both 25-year-old-plus diesels, one of which was featured on CNN.com’s American Road Trips special) that I run on biodiesel, so I find this all quite interesting.

California's proposing a “Low Carbon-Fuel Standard” aimed at decreasing carbon, not only from tailpipe emissions but also from the overall production of fuels and their use. As part of this, it has proposed a rule limiting the use of ethanol in the strategy, mainly because it says ethanol from corn (because of its land use and impact on food crops) can have a higher impact than regular gasoline produced in the state (according to the Los Angeles Times).

Supporters of the proposal claim they aren’t trying to ban ethanol or anything; in fact, according to the fact sheet I linked to above, they’re advocating going from an ethanol blend fuel called E5 (5 percent ethanol, 95 percent gasoline) to E10 (10 percent ethanol, 90 percent gasoline) and E85 (85 percent ethanol) for flex fuel vehicles.

Mainly they’re stressing the change from corn-based ethanol to cellulosic-based ethanol (ethanol made from agricultural waste or switchgrass are cited examples), which the sheet says can have four or five times lower greenhouse gas emissions than corn.

The ethanol people don’t really like that. Tom Koehler of Pacific Ethanol told the Los Angeles Times that the proposal was a “perversion of science and a prescription for disaster.” And Wesley Clark (yes, that Wesley Clark), the co-chairman of ethanol lobbying group Growth Energy, told SFGate that in addition to bad science, it would be “bad policy to adopt a regulation that creates unfair standards” and would continue California’s reliance on fossil fuels.

If you live in California, you have until April 23 to comment on the proposal, when the Air Resources Board will vote. And I'm sure the rest of you will have plenty to say on this controversial topic. Fire away in the comments.

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Filed under: Cars • climate change • environment • Ethanol • Fuel • Gas • Gasoline • Road trip


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August 11, 2008

All over but the napping

Posted: 12:55 PM ET

Well... here we are. We made it back to Atlanta in (mostly) one piece after a two-week journey I'll never forget. This morning my colleague Brian Hardy and I did a little recap video interview with CNN.com Live which you can see here.  We also have an iPhone review (it never left my side) that we'll put up a little later.

cody.atlanta

I have a lot of cables to untangle.

Four-thousand miles later - and many gallons of bio and regular diesel - I  would call this road trip a success.  It wasn't perfect - but we talked to a lot of people, saw a lot of things and learned a good deal about biodiesel fuel and long-distance travel.

Now I have about two tons of gear to sort through and put back in its rightful place (versus the various bags, bins and cubbies I stuffed it into).

Oh yeah - and the sleeping - there will be lots of sleeping.

Thanks for followin' us...

– Cody McCloy, signing off

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Filed under: environment • Road trip


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August 8, 2008

'Soul-wrenching weeks' about to end

Posted: 01:51 PM ET

After two long, soul-wrenching weeks we're finally about to head home. This trip has been amazing.

scout.oxford

Our Scout sits Friday in front of The Lyceum at Ole Miss in Oxford, Mississippi.

I've met people I hope to become long-term friends with. I also reconnected with some old friends, including Jenna from the National Biodiesel Board, who used to be my producer back in my KOMU-TV days at the University of Missouri.

All in all I would mark the trip a success. What do you think?

Now we're arranging to get five gallons of bio before making the trip back to Atlanta. There, I plan to take a two-day nap after we wrap it all up during a CNN.com Live broadcast on Monday. We'll take a look at what lessons we learned from our trip and some of the lighthearted moments.
- Cody

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Filed under: environment • Road trip


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August 7, 2008

Where's Willie?

Posted: 07:28 PM ET

As we approached exit 211 off I-55 near Coffeeville, Mississippi, we saw a billboard for a "Bio Willie" station - the biofuel store chain started by musician Willie Nelson.

willie.nelson

We didn't see Willie Nelson nor did we see an open Bio Willie biofuel store.

We'd heard that it had closed, but the giant billboard looked practically brand new.

Alas, as we rounded the curve it became obvious that "Bio Willie" had indeed shut down - its shelves were clearly empty and its pumps were dark. There was still a ton of signage proclaiming the brand name. Odd and sad.

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Filed under: environment • Road trip


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Price: Gas versus 'bio'

Posted: 07:08 PM ET

Note to "S Callahan" who asked in our comments what kind of money are we spending on biodiesel in comparison to typical gasoline:

biodiesel.pump

We filled up in Albuquerque, New Mexico, with B20.

Since we've mostly been buying blends, the prices have been quite close to what you might pay for gasoline. "Bio" might've even been a touch higher in some places we've stopped.

Remember, demand sets price, and there's a huge demand for all fuels right now. The only way biodiesel would be cheaper was if no one wanted it.

Hope that answers your question!

–Cody

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Filed under: environment • Road trip


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Ole Miss, here we come

Posted: 04:19 PM ET

Our rolling, unscientific biofuel experiment has crossed into the great state of Mississippi – rocketing (joke) toward Oxford and the University of Mississippi.

new.orleans

New Orleans on Thursday.

Behind us, New Orleans, where we filled up on B5 biofuel at a station in an industrial district.

We’re still getting around 23 miles per gallon and we’ve traveled about 3,500 miles since this two-week adventure began on July 28.

The engine inside our 30-year-old Scout is running great. Mostly because we haven’t been running higher concentrations of biodiesel fuel.

So... how are we holding up during this grueling marathon of driving, reporting, sleeping, waking up and repeating? We’re making it.

Last night’s camping experience at the KOA West in New Orleans wasn’t very restful. We didn’t realize that the campground is near a railroad track. Three-minute-long whistles from passing trains kept us up. Cody probably got an hour-and-a-half of sleep and I got four or five.

We apologize if our lack of sleep affected our interview this morning with Tulane's Prof. Douglas Meffert, who talked about a project to build river turbines to power the city's Lower Ninth Ward.

Weather: Muggy. Sadly, as many of you know, this truck has no working air conditioning.

For breakfast we stopped at Starbucks for pastry and a coffee. That’s the only thing we really had to speak of today.

But we’re meeting my parents for lunch in Jackson this afternoon and we’re looking forward to joining in the Hotty Toddy in Oxford with Ole Miss fans later tonight and Friday. If you’re on campus tomorrow at about 8:30 a.m. CT, come and say hi. We’ll be set up at The Lyceum.

Are you ready????

– Brian

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Filed under: environment • Road trip


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August 6, 2008

Rollin' 'n bloggin'

Posted: 08:04 PM ET

As we blog, at this moment, we're pushing the 1978 Scout past Alexandria, Louisiana, en route to New Orleans.

brian.iphone

I probably shouldn't take pictures of Brian while I'm driving.

This is our sixth state on our California-to-Georgia road trip. We're trying to burn eco-friendly biodiesel fuel as much as possible. Our previous stop in the Dallas-Fort Worth area wasn't showing us any biodiesel love.

We stopped at a Love's outside Dallas, but they had none. We tried another place that was closed permanently. The only other option that we found was an Air Force base outside Shreveport, Louisiana, and that place didn't sell biodiesel to retail customers. We're going to try to get some in New Orleans.

Btw, check out our new photo gallery with pix from California, Nevada, our nightmare in Arizona, and New Mexico.

As for today's weather and comfort level, it's cloudy, cooler and much more humid compared to Tuesday.

It was actually tolerable enough to sleep in the car. (No, I was NOT driving at the time!)

I'd rather be steamed than baked!

–Cody

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Filed under: environment • Road trip


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I felt like a fish in an oven

Posted: 01:59 PM ET

Our cross-country road trip using biodiesel fuel motors on toward New Orleans, Louisiana.

cody.brian

Brian Hardy and I rest after broadcasting Wednesday on CNN.com Live.

After we over-nighted in Fort Worth, Texas, we’ll see if it really takes eight-and-a-half hours to drive to the Big Easy - as those “directions Web sites” suggest.

We’re hoping to visit New Orleans’ Lower Ninth Ward on Thursday to see how it’s doing nearly three years after residents were hit hard by Hurricane Katrina. Because we lost so much time due to mechanical troubles in Arizona, it looks like we’ll have to cancel our planned visit to Natchez, Mississippi.

I have to tell you that Tuesday was one of the longest drives of our trip so far – we drove about 500 miles in one day. It also was one of the hottest. With no air conditioning in our 1978 Scout, I felt like a piece of fish in an oven. I was just roasting. My skin was dry and cracking and basically I pleaded with my co-pilot Brian Hardy to stop at a convenience store so we could stand in the a/c for about ten minutes.

– Cody

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Filed under: environment • Road trip


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Road trippers review GPS units

Posted: 08:28 AM ET

It's Day Ten of our California-to-Georgia road trip in our biofueled International Harvester Scout.
We've paused in Fort Worth, Texas, providing me with an opportunity to review a couple of loaner GPS navigation units that we've been testing out.

tomtom.garmin

The Garmin, left, and the Tom Tom GPS units have pleasantries and annoyances.

We have a Garmin nüvi 880 and a TomTom Go 730. While these two aren't necessarily in the same price range, they both have their strong and weak points.

Let's take a look at a few of them.

Certainly the more expensive of the pair, the Garmin nüvi 880 comes equipped with a feature set to match its price. One of the nicer features, in theory, is the draggable map view that can be easily accessed by tapping on the map while in driving mode.

It allows you to view your current position from a "top down" perspective, and you can drag the map around to locate a new or alternate destination by tapping.

Unfortunately, this view quickly proved useless for most purposes, largely because of a lack of detail in the map and its difficulty in appropriately labeling what was shown (it refused to label Las Vegas at any zoom level, labeling all the suburbs instead).

We often found ourselves using the iPhone's Google Maps application to cross-reference; clearly not something you expect to need to do with a high-end GPS at your disposal.

Otherwise, the Garmin interface is fairly well executed, if a bit slow to respond. It's easy to set your destination and add via points, and there are menu options allowing you to re-order the points either manually or optimally, based on the route.

Automatic day/night color mode selection is handy, and the high resolution display can show a good bit of information alongside the map, although we wished we could add more.

Another driving mode screen shows various data about your trip, such as distance traveled and average speeds (moving and overall).

It also shows your current speed in a large circle, which was handy for us at night because the Scout's dash lights are broken. This feature would also be nice for use while bicycling, if you're brave enough to mount such a nice piece of gear on your bike.

Speaking of mounts, the mounting bracket and suction cup for this device are very well designed, and it hasn't lost its hold on the windshield yet, even through some very bumpy terrain.

We did experience a few misdirections and bad routing choices, one of which caused us to miss the check-in window for our campsite in Roswell, New Mexico, but overall the Garmin has seen more use on the trip.

The TomTom Go 730probably has the more user-friendly interface, but its screen is lower resolution than the Garmin, and the maps don't look quite as nice in navigation mode. It does a better job of displaying point of interest (POI) information on the map as you move along, however, which can be handy. Also we liked the ability to see the entire route displayed on a map, but there didn't seem to be a way to zoom in or out in that view.

Our speed and the current speed limit were always displayed on the main screen along with the map, and this information was also customizable, allowing you to choose what info to display. We never noticed any sluggishness with the interface from tap to tap, and the method of searching for your destination by typing was more intuitive than the Garmin's, requiring fewer taps.

The mounting hardware for the TomTom leaves something to be desired, as the suction cup has fallen off a few times and the power cable plugs into the bottom of the unit, which can interfere with the dashboard if you don't place it high enough. Occasionally we had difficulty reading the next turn information on the display, as it is somewhat small and unobtrusive. The speaker, however, was loud enough to overcome this problem most of the time, even with our windows down.

Ultimately, both of the units have pleasantries and annoyances.

Certainly our usage hasn't covered all of the features of either unit, especially those related to managing and updating them with your computer. Hopefully, however, our experiences can help guide you to a better understanding of what you might be getting into.

See you on the road!

– Brian

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Filed under: environment • Road trip


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August 5, 2008

They lie!

Posted: 08:06 AM ET

You know those directions Web sites - and the travel times they give you about how long it takes to drive somewhere? They lie!

cody.brian.winslow

In Winslow, Arizona, Cody McCloy and co-pilot Brian Hardy visit a statue honoring the Eagles song "Take It Easy."

Or at least they do when - like us - you're driving a 30-year-old vehicle, with no air conditioning and it's 100+ degrees. In addition, that's if you drive without stopping. Who drives straight for 8 hours? Not me that's for sure - as we make our way from California to Georgia. I have to eat and other such things.

Also you have to fuel your car. And because we're attempting to fuel our 1978 International Harvester Scout on as much biodiesel as possible - these fill-up stops aren't always quick and easy.

Today for instance, we first hit the road around 8:30 a.m. - which meant we should have arrived in Roswell, New Mexico, around 6ish. Nuh uh - we got here at 9 p.m.

We had reserved a camping spot at Bottomless Lakes State Park (which sounded divine - power, a shelter, what more could a boy and his gadgets want?) Well that was a bust. The park locks its gates at 9. We thought we might make it anyway - but a GPS-led wrong turn later and that was all a ship in the mist glimpsed but never touched.

I must say Roswell is bigger than I'd imagined it, and kinda cool.

The strip leading downtown has many old department stores which are now leading new lives, and a fair bit of neon. Also some of the street lights have alien eye stickers stuck on them.

Yeah, I like this place.

So no camping - and there seems to be a run on hotels. So neither did I get to stay in the one with the awesome neon sign. Instead it's a big corpprate box place - by far the nicest place we've paid to stay this trip. Call me what you will for wanting a little character.

Okay - time to put down the blogging pen and take up the editing pen. I have a lot to do before going to bed (and crew call is at 5ish tomorrow) including finding some food, editing and uploading some video and pictures.

Till tomorrow

– Cody

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Filed under: environment • Road trip


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Are you a gadgethead? Do you spend hours a day online? Or are you just curious about how technology impacts your life? In this digital age, it's increasingly important to be fluent, or at least familiar, with the big tech trends. From gadgets to Google, smartphones to social media, this blog will help keep you informed.

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