AuthorTopic: The Volkswagen Scandal  (Read 3437 times)

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The Volkswagen Scandal
« on: October 01, 2015, 02:46:04 AM »


 



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Published on Resource Crisis on September 22, 2015



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Discuss this article at the Economics Table inside the Diner



Say goodbye to the internal combustion engine!



By now, I guess that everyone in the world has heard of how Volkswagen cheated consumers by falsifying the results of the emission tests from their diesel engines. It is a true witch hunt unleashed against Volkswagen. Maybe there are good reasons for it, but I think it is also something that should be taken with caution. A lot of it.



I have been a consultant for the automotive industry for some 20 years and I think that I know the way they operate. And I can tell you that they are not equipped for "cheating", intended as willingly ignoring or breaking the law. They just don't do that, they understand very well that the result could be something like what's happening to Volkswagen nowadays; something that could lead to their end as a car manufacturer. On the contrary, carmakers tend to be extremely legalistic and apply to the letter the current laws and regulations.



This said, it is also clear that car makers are there to make a profit and their managers are supposed to "get results". So, if the laws and the regulations are not clear, or do not explicitly say that something is forbidden; then, if that something is supposed to provide some advantage to the company, it may be done.



This is, I think, what happened in this case. It is very well known that the results of the pollution tests made in the lab are always much better than those made on the road. And it is very well known that the performances of cars as measured in standardized tests are always much better than those of real cars. It is all very well known and documented: look for instance here and here. (h/t G.Meneghello).



So, if cheating is so diffuse, why was Volkswagen singled out in this scandal? Maybe they were doing something especially bad, but I would be surprised if they were to turn out to be the only ones using the trick they have been accused to use for hiding nitrogen oxide emissions. Besides, I am sure that, before doing what they did, they checked with their legal department and got some kind of green light: possibly reasoning that if it was not explicitly forbidden it was not illegal. Anyway, I leave to conspiracy theorists the obvious implications that could be derived from this story.



Rather, I would point out something that I learned in my work with the automotive industry. It is that the story of pollution abatement in internal combustion engines is a good example of the diminishing returns of technology. And not just that, it also illustrates very well how good intentions can easily conflict with reality and actually backfire.



It is a long and fascinating story that, here, I can just sketch it in its main lines (*). Anyway, the concept of "pollution" became popular in the 1970s and it quickly became clear that a major culprit were the emissions from car engines. That led to a major debate: some thought that it was necessary to get rid of internal combustion engines and replace them with electric motors, others that it was possible to reduce pollution from engines to acceptable levels. The latter position won (do you remember the "who killed the electric car" movie?)  and that led to a long series of legislative actions, especially in Europe, aimed at the development of less polluting and more efficient engines. On the whole, the results appear to be good (see, e.g. here).



However, what the Volkswagen scandal tells us is that, likely, most of the recent improvements may have been obtained, if not by cheating, at least by a creative interpretation of the rules. An especially telling point, here, has to do with the specific point that led to incriminate Volkswagen: the abatement of nitrous oxides. The problem is especially nasty because it arises from conflicting needs. One is of having low pollution, the other high mileage. To have high mileage, you need to increase the efficiency of the engine, and this can be done using diesel engine instead of the conventional gasoline engines. Diesel engines work at higher temperatures and pressures, and that makes them more efficient. But that makes them also produce more nitrous oxides. It has to do with the thermodynamics of combustion and you should know that if you try to fight thermodynamics, thermodynamics always wins. The problem is basically unsolvable, at least at costs compatible with the price of a normal car. And when you face an unsolvable problem, often the reaction may be to cheat. This is, evidently, what happened with the automotive industry and the results have been exposed by the Volkswagen scandal.



But, if it is true that we cannot win against thermodynamics, it is also true that we don't need to fight against it. A battle against the combustion engine was lost in the 1970s, but the war can still be won: the electric car is making a spectacular return. Electric motors do not produce any gaseous pollution, they are much more efficient than internal combustion engines, and, in addition, they are compatible with renewable energy. What can we ask more? This time, let's try to avoid the mistakes we made in the past.



 (*) this is something that I hope to be able to describe in detail in a new book that I am working at. 



Offline MKing

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Re: The Volkswagen Scandal
« Reply #1 on: October 01, 2015, 07:31:05 AM »
I have a personal interest in this story, being an almost buyer of VW diesels on 3 occasions. But something…just…wouldn't…let…me.

Now I know what that something is.

Let oil-burner owners go the way of the dodo bird.

The future is…ELECTRIFYING!!!!!


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Offline Eddie

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Re: The Volkswagen Scandal
« Reply #2 on: October 01, 2015, 11:08:55 AM »
Bring on the electric pick-up trucks.
What makes the desert beautiful is that somewhere it hides a well.

Offline Palloy

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Re: The Volkswagen Scandal
« Reply #3 on: October 01, 2015, 04:15:16 PM »
Here we go again.  We would need to manufacture a lot of solar panels to power everything that oil powers now.  That takes a lot of fossil fuels, at a time when fossil fuels are becoming scarcer and lower ERoEI.  The Hirsch Report (2005) said that the median lifetime of passenger vehicles is 17 years, which means even if we made ONLY electric cars from now on, there would still be lots of ICEs around in 20 years time. (For trucks it's longer still.)  And it would be impossible to start such a program instantly, you've got to get planning permission and build the solar panel factories and the solar panel-making machines first.  Then you've got to have new/modified factories to build the new vehicles, and factories to make all the electric motors and batteries.

If you draw up a spreadsheet for when the energy is required over the transition phase, and what will actually be available, you will see quite clearly that it can't be done.  Thermodynamics will certainly win, quite apart from how much more funny money would have to be printed to pay for it, and the reluctance of the oil producers, shippers and refiners, and all their workers and salesmen, to go along with it.

The only people who claim it is possible are those who have not drawn up that spreadsheet.  Once you do that, you will give up on the idea in embarrassment.
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Offline Eddie

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Re: The Volkswagen Scandal
« Reply #4 on: October 01, 2015, 04:22:03 PM »
I was being facetious.  I don't believe it can be done either.

Of course, Niels Bohr was certain they couldn't build the Bomb, because it was just too hard and it would take forever to make that much fissionable material. That's what I've read.
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Offline Eddie

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Re: The Volkswagen Scandal
« Reply #5 on: October 01, 2015, 04:25:04 PM »
I was actually wondering about the possibility of getting a diesel VW for a very good price. I suppose that's wrong, but it's the way my mind works.
What makes the desert beautiful is that somewhere it hides a well.

Offline RE

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Re: The Volkswagen Scandal
« Reply #6 on: October 01, 2015, 04:35:33 PM »
I was being facetious.  I don't believe it can be done either.

Of course, Niels Bohr was certain they couldn't build the Bomb, because it was just too hard and it would take forever to make that much fissionable material. That's what I've read.

Neils Bohr couldn't fathom a lot of what came after him.  Read Werner Heisenberg's autobiography, and also James Watson.

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Offline MKing

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Re: The Volkswagen Scandal
« Reply #7 on: October 01, 2015, 05:02:25 PM »
Here we go again.  We would need to manufacture a lot of solar panels to power everything that oil powers now.  That takes a lot of fossil fuels, at a time when fossil fuels are becoming scarcer and lower ERoEI.  The Hirsch Report (2005) said that the median lifetime of passenger vehicles is 17 years, which means even if we made ONLY electric cars from now on, there would still be lots of ICEs around in 20 years time.

The Hirsch report was fundamentally flawed in its resource assumptions. And do you happen to be referring to what others have called "the magic triangles" that Robert used to represent increases in market saturation of certain technology? I suppose he couldn't be bothered with the proper representation which use S curves instead? Robert's credibility also has a few dents, he was predicting energy crisis during the early 90's in publications in 1988, never having seen an oil consumption rate that didn't cause crisis. It must have been like a kid in the candy store, getting paid to recycle his ideas from 1988 all over again, in an official DOE publication.

And "scarcer" has been happening since Drake produced his first barrel…because on that day…the world was 1 barrel scarcer than it was before. Depending on which endowment estimate you like, humans have used 1.2 trill barrels out of 8 to 14 trillion. So sure…oil has been getting scarcer since 1859 and yet…here we all are…


Quote from: Palloy
(For trucks it's longer still.)  And it would be impossible to start such a program instantly, you've got to get planning permission and build the solar panel factories and the solar panel-making machines first.  Then you've got to have new/modified factories to build the new vehicles, and factories to make all the electric motors and batteries.

The difference between using those magic triangles and a market saturation curve is that of course market saturation curves don't take as long, an electrically powered transport has already been prototyped and mass produced, and can be scaled up far faster than those magic triangles suggest.

Quote from: Palloy
The only people who claim it is possible are those who have not drawn up that spreadsheet.  Once you do that, you will give up on the idea in embarrassment.

People really don't understand the exponential function. Exponential growth in renewables, and exponential decline of 4-8% in oil, at least, works out pretty good within a generation, spreadsheet wise. Did it once for someone who said something similar, but related to oil. haven't tried to decline all hydrocarbons because we have so much of the stuff, it isn't a valid assumption, declining all of them, in an arena of such abundance.
Sometimes one creates a dynamic impression by saying something, and sometimes one creates as significant an impression by remaining silent.
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Offline RE

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Re: The Volkswagen Scandal
« Reply #8 on: October 01, 2015, 05:06:39 PM »
I was actually wondering about the possibility of getting a diesel VW for a very good price. I suppose that's wrong, but it's the way my mind works.

A risky idea, since they may have to recall all of them.  Getting out from under the coming lawsuits is going to be quite a challenge for their lawyers.

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Offline MKing

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Re: The Volkswagen Scandal
« Reply #9 on: October 01, 2015, 05:13:42 PM »
I was actually wondering about the possibility of getting a diesel VW for a very good price. I suppose that's wrong, but it's the way my mind works.

The diesel dudes at Fred TDI forums are going wild, some are speculating it will cause the value of their machines to increase, others to crater. Some are going to refuse the fix because they are pretty sure it will decrease highway performance, primarily power and efficiency.

I wanted those 50 mpg highway efficiency SO bad…but cold affects efficiency, diesel prices were running $1/gal higher than gasoline until recently, the quality of current VWs is suspicious, turbos on the Passats, HPFPs on the Jettas as well as icing on the intercoolers, electrical gremlins.

So now I get low 40's on the interstate, but 50+ on the secondaries I prefer, and use NO gasoline around town. So it all worked out, but still, those Passats….pretty bland but SWEET for low noise and huge interior room.
Sometimes one creates a dynamic impression by saying something, and sometimes one creates as significant an impression by remaining silent.
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Offline Palloy

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Re: The Volkswagen Scandal
« Reply #10 on: October 02, 2015, 05:12:08 PM »
Quote
MK: Depending on which endowment estimate you like, humans have used 1.2 trill barrels out of 8 to 14 trillion. So sure…oil has been getting scarcer since 1859 and yet…here we all are…

Yes, the future is sure to be like the past.  What percentage of those trillions of barrels do you think can actually be extracted?

Quote
Exponential growth in renewables, and exponential decline of 4-8% in oil, at least, works out pretty good within a generation, spreadsheet wise.

But that's not the point, is it?  It has to be "pretty good" every single year.  If you try and pretend that you get all your ER at the same time as you have to spend your EI, as the simplistic ERoEI suggests, then of course it looks doable.  But in practice, the EI spent at the beginning on building your PV factory doesn't get completely paid back until the end of the lifetime of the last panel produced by the factory - maybe 60 years in the future.  Up until then, the "ERoEI achieved to date" is less than the life-cycle ERoEI.

If the Lifetime is L, and the ERoEI is E, the Energy Payback Time is T = L/E, and the maximum annual growth % rate without fossil energy support is 100*E/L.  So for Solar PV that's about 12%.  Any faster growth than that needs an energy subsidy, so "exponential growth in renewables" is impossible.
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Offline MKing

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Re: The Volkswagen Scandal
« Reply #11 on: October 02, 2015, 07:25:53 PM »
Quote
MK: Depending on which endowment estimate you like, humans have used 1.2 trill barrels out of 8 to 14 trillion. So sure…oil has been getting scarcer since 1859 and yet…here we all are…

Yes, the future is sure to be like the past.  What percentage of those trillions of barrels do you think can actually be extracted?

The future will NOT be like the past. Cannot be. We have already used those 1.2 trillion, and we won't be putting them back. Which means the future involves how and if we use that remaining 6.8 - 12.8 trillion. I am hoping, as someone who believes that crude is obsolete, that we won't use any more of it than necessary to complete the transition.

Quote from: Palloy
Quote
Exponential growth in renewables, and exponential decline of 4-8% in oil, at least, works out pretty good within a generation, spreadsheet wise.

But that's not the point, is it?  It has to be "pretty good" every single year.

Not really. Oi production, when Albert Bartlett was proclaiming it to be mimicked by an exponential function, wasn't "pretty good" every year. Some years good, some bad. But overall, exponential growth. It was POSSIBLE because demand was increasing in just as predictable a way. So the question is, can we get consistent demand growth for those renewables to allow their exponential growth?

Quote from: Palloy
If you try and pretend that you get all your ER at the same time as you have to spend your EI, as the simplistic ERoEI suggests, then of course it looks doable.  But in practice, the EI spent at the beginning on building your PV factory doesn't get completely paid back until the end of the lifetime of the last panel produced by the factory - maybe 60 years in the future.  Up until then, the "ERoEI achieved to date" is less than the life-cycle ERoEI.

Fortunate indeed then that metrics in terms of energy are irrelevant in how human economic systems work.
Sometimes one creates a dynamic impression by saying something, and sometimes one creates as significant an impression by remaining silent.
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Offline Palloy

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Re: The Volkswagen Scandal
« Reply #12 on: October 04, 2015, 06:30:54 AM »
Quote
Fortunate indeed then that metrics in terms of energy are irrelevant in how human economic systems work.

That is such a stupid (trolling) statement that I am sure even you cannot really mean it.  You can't cheat the Laws of Thermodynamics, no matter how much funny money you print.  Making stuff takes energy, transport takes energy, communications takes energy, and there are no energy credit cards.
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Offline azozeo

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Re: The Volkswagen Scandal
« Reply #13 on: October 04, 2015, 11:01:03 AM »
Vdub will fair well with the EPA. To the tune of $18b in fines. They'll never pay it.

I've heard rumors that VW will hit the U.S. market with an all electric retro bus.  :icon_scratch:

VW will just stop importing the TDI powerplant here in the U.S. No big deal.
I know exactly what you mean. Let me tell you why you’re here. You’re here because you know something. What you know you can’t explain, but you feel it. You’ve felt it your entire life, that there’s something wrong with the world.
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Offline MKing

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Re: The Volkswagen Scandal
« Reply #14 on: October 04, 2015, 11:51:10 AM »
Quote
Fortunate indeed then that metrics in terms of energy are irrelevant in how human economic systems work.

That is such a stupid (trolling) statement that I am sure even you cannot really mean it.

Well, let us start with empirical evidence. Never in the history of mankind has a well, project, or field ever been developed based on an energy in and energy out calculation. So we can dismiss the VALUE of EROEI to anything in the practical realm in the history of mankind related to the oil field.

Now let us test a specific, theoretical example. We are stuck with these because the previous paragraph is axiomatic. Now we discuss the components of a single theoretical EROEI calculation. Let us say that the energy input into drilling a well is 100 BTU (we're making ip numbers here because having done the real calculation I have no desire to explain how blogosphere calculations appear to be based on the discovery profile of conventional accumulations) and the wells makes 200 BTU over its pipelines. So a simplistic EROEI calculation is energy out / energy in = 200/100 = 2.

This wells makes us some amount of money based on those 200 BTUs out, depending on the value of the BTU.

Now, Charlie would have us believe that as more and more wells are drilled, EROEI will do down, and using this calculation it might, the usual implication being that wells produce less and less, or more and more energy is required for the same result. In either case, the ratio of EROEI goes down as 200 decreases, or 100 increases, right?

But again, the VALUE of the well in the human economic system is dependent upon the commodity price, and therefore less productive wells can be just as VALUABLE as they were before, at a lower EROEI.

Any dispute with how I've explained the basics of this?

Now we demonstrate why EROEI is irrelevant in human economic systems…because the value of BTUs are different, even though BTUs as an empirical measure is the same.

Of that 100 BTUs invested in drilling the well, 30 of them are from the diesel fuel used in running the gensets. It costs $5 to buy that diesel. A clever young man comes along and says, "Mr Company Man, I will sell you that POWER (which is what the ENERGY input as diesel fuel is used for) for $4!!" Company man, being in one of the fastest moving and adaptable industries ever invented by man, seeing he is going to put $1 in the coffers of the company and maybe get a kickback on it, says "Yes!! Give me my POWER for $4 (instead of $5) and you will be my guy!!"

Clever young man runs out, puts up a bunch of solar panels, builds two dams, and uses solar energy to pump water uphill during the day (using surplus to run gensets during day, and uses hydro power at night to create power).

Diesel fuel was 30 BTUs of energy converted to power. Now I use 3000 BTUs of solar to generate the same amount of power for the rig. So my energy input just went from (100-30+3000) = 3070. My output is still 100, so my EROEI is now 200/3070.

In an energy metric world, my drilling rig just became horrible and all drilling should stop. Just as he predicted would happen by about the year 2000. What REALLY happened was that the company man got a bigger bonus for saving the company $1, the wells all make the same, we wasted a BUNCH of BTUs pumping water around to make power, and The Virtue of Waste is revealed!!

For those interested in the book spelling out this idea far better than I:

http://www.amazon.com/The-Bottomless-Well-Twilight-Virtue/dp/046503117X

So the only question left is…why do YOU think EROEI is relevant?

Quote from: Palloy
You can't cheat the Laws of Thermodynamics, no matter how much funny money you print.  Making stuff takes energy, transport takes energy, communications takes energy, and there are no energy credit cards.

I cheated no laws of thermodynamics in the example above. Just demonstrated how EROEI can vary wildly, and it just doesn't matter in a human economic system. No trolling. Just logic. And knowing a little bit about how drilling rigs work. I would have a different explanation if I thought that anyone here was familiar with discovery process modeling, but that is unlikely, so I'll stick to easy examples like the one above.
Sometimes one creates a dynamic impression by saying something, and sometimes one creates as significant an impression by remaining silent.
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