Category Archives: oil

Toyota’s fuel cell mirage.


Toyota Mirai

Pardon me: Mirai, which is the name of Toyota’s hydrogen-fueled fuel cell car that’s just come onto the market. Make that, a market, as in: only in California where there are a few dozen stations to fill up. Toyota doesn’t believe in the battery-powered electric car. It should know, it’s been in the business of developing, selling, and servicing the hybrid petrol-electric Prius since 1997. The billions spent in R&D paid off handsomely, as the Prius became a runaway success, stealing a march on all of its competitors.

It was expected that the company would continue on the chosen path, and it did. For a while at least. After three generations of Priuses, each one better and thriftier than the previous -a fourth is about to launch- with total sales of close to four million, Toyota no longer believes in electric.

Or rather, it doesn’t believe in the lithium-ion battery currently propelling a plug-in version of the latest Prius up to 20 kilometers on electric power alone before the gasoline engine kicks in. Continuing that evolution, relying less on the petrol-part of its hybrid system, in favor of going electric is, according to Toyota engineers, technically not feasible. Until charging a battery takes minutes and not hours, as it currently does, nothing can be done.

Rather than R&D its way out of the slow-battery-charging quagmire, the company set out on a different path altogether. Behold: the Mirai. You quickly fill it up with hydrogen, and a nifty device called a fuel cell will turn that hydrogen into electric power, and water. The motor of the car is electric. No oil or gas needed. Except the oil and gas currently used to fabricate the hydrogen of course.

Clean hydrogen anyone?

Clean hydrogen anyone?

It’s possible, using electrolysis, to simply split water into oxygen and hydrogen. But overwhelmingly, 95% of all hydrogen is currently produced using hydrocarbons. Moreover, roughly half of that hydrogen is used in the process of oil refinement itself. Filling up the Mirai with hydrogen currently costs about twice what you would pay for gasoline although Toyota hopes the price will eventually be comparable.

With the Mirai you have yourself an electric car, almost as dear as a (battery-electric) model S Tesla, that you can charge very quickly, and drive for about the same distance you would a Tesla. You cannot charge the Mirai from your home for 5 to 10 Euros (depending on where you live), but industry are planning to expand the number of hydrogen stations in North America and Europe. In Germany for instance, these good folks have taken it upon them to invest the necessary billions: Air Liquide, Daimler, Linde, OMV, Shell and Total.

The good old days, reloaded.

The good old days, reloaded.

In other words, the petrol people have seen the light. For a price you understand. In stead of a cable connecting a wind turbine or solar (ideally sitting on top of your house) with your car, they want to keep pumping oil and gas, and shipping it to their refineries, turning it into hydrogen and then trucking it out to petrol, excuse me, hydrogen stations where you, for a good price, will go and fetch a good old physical product. Out with the old, in with the old.

An article (on Motley Fool) recently argued that Toyota’s move towards hydrogen should worry automakers like Tesla who are opting for battery-electric cars, because “Toyota’s standing makes it hard to dismiss”. What they really seem to be offering is another lease on life for an energy infrastructure that has served humanity well for about a hundred years, but that has destabilized entire regions, destroyed countries, and potentially, the world.

battery-electric 2018 Chevrolet Bolt

battery-electric 2018 Chevrolet Bolt

Luckily consumers can be expected to make the right choice, financially and environmentally, especially when cheaper, 20.000 to 40.000 euro electric cars start hitting the market in the coming years. Investors should likewise see Toyota’s hydrogen venture for what it is: a mirage.


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Intervention in Libya: a state of play on military action

On March 21st, 44 people, mainly civilians, died in the 18th “suspected” American drone strike this year on the tribal areas of West Pakistan. Most news articles add the term “suspected” because US officials rarely acknowledge these attacks that are directed, not by the morally unimpeachable US military, but by the evil Central Intelligence Agency in Langley, West Virginia. In 2010, 111 of such strikes have taken place, targeting suspected militants in jeeps, homes, weddings, and funeral processions. Thousands of bystanders, wives, children, neighbors and drivers of these suspected militants have died.

To call these actions “counterproductive” is a gross understatement, if not a cynical denial of such democratic principles as the right to a fair trial and representation, or simply the privilege to attend public gatherings without having your entrails violently spread out over a large geographical area. To say Americans are creating terrorists rather than combatting them would be too technical, misanthropical an appraisal of the individual lives, the women and children whose lives are lost on a daily basis. The short news blurbs featured in western outlets even more so. To opine that Pakistan is rendered less, not more stable doesn’t come close to capturing the loss of humanity a scornful observer might label “a couple of nine-elevens”.

Meanwhile the United States of America, guarantor of global freedom and democracy, keeps schtum as Bahrain, host to its 5th fleet, deploys snipers to snuff out ongoing pro-democracy protests. Yemen, whose tribal areas are also regularly targeted by CIA drone aircraft, killed over 50 democracy protestors yesterday (CNN lavishly peppers the term “Shi’ite” over its coverage as in Iran/dangerous as opposed to freedom-loving) . Somehow, none of the above prevented Hilary Clinton from prancing up and down Tahrir square in Cairo, hailing the magical events there that led to the demise of a personal pal of hers. To call America’s friend request vis-a-vis the Arab spring as merely contemptuous would be to deny the decades of propped up dictators, supplying an Iraqi madman with poison gas, wars fought directly or by regional proxy, etc..

Libyans are as deserving of freedom and dignity as anyone using their petrol. Short of actually fucking his mom, Kadhafi is “our” creation.

At least his French fighter planes and Belgian riffles are. Perhaps it’s a tad cynical to view the looming intervention as a ploy to quickly liberate the oil installations. Perhaps the armed opposition might have been snuffed out otherwise, leaving Libya an autocratic outlier for an untold number of years in an increasingly democratic region. Perhaps, like the Iranians, Libyans simply need to bide their time, dust off, and try again later. The Arab spring, however messy, incomplete, staggered, and bloody should remain just that. Arab, that is.

This revolution isn’t about oil, or at least it shouldn’t be. It’s about Arab populations exercising popular sovereignty, which is a difficult, complex, painful, necessary, and cathartic process that involves taking steps forward, and some back again. Foreign intervention is, by its very nature, antithetical to this revolution. Helping beleaguered Benghazi might, from an emotional stance, be a chance to right historical wrongs, or just another opportunity to miss an opportunity to but out. Who knows? Historical precedent however strongly suggests the latter.

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Filed under International Affairs, Islam, oil