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The Week In Green Vehicles
Mike Millikin, 19 Dec 04

Every Sunday, Green Car Congress' Mike Millikin gives us an update on the week's sustainable mobility news. Green Car Congress is by far the best resource around for news and analysis covering the ongoing evolution of personal transportation. Take it away, Mike:

  • Climate Change Conferences Around the World
  • Europe and Diesel
  • Hybrids and Fuel Cells

    • Two major conferences with a focus on climate change were underway this week, one a scientific gathering, the other a global convocation on policy. The American Geophysical Union (AGU) held its Fall Meeting in San Francisco and, although climate change was not the only item on the agenda, numerous papers produced evidence of climate change and analysis of the consequences. In Buenos Aires, the tenth Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (COP-10) continued on through the week.

    Papers at the AGU pointed to the rapid increase in the melting of glaciers and the increase in sea levels, and to the potentially devastating effects should the fresh meltwater disrupt the thermohaline cycle that keeps Western Europe at a temperate climate. Not all researchers were in agreement about the mechanics of the melt, however. One team argued that extreme changes in the Arctic Oscillation in the early 1990s and not warmer temperatures of recent years are largely responsible for declines in how much sea ice covers the Arctic Ocean. (The researchers point to the increase in greenhouse gases as contributing to the extreme variance in the oscillation.)

    Separately, scientists from the United Nations’ World Meteorological Organization in Geneva noted that 2004 is set to finish as the fourth-warmest since record-keeping began in 1861. They warned that global warming is set to continue, bringing with it an increase in extreme weather such as hurricanes and droughts.

    At the COP-10 meeting, while the federal US tried to ensure that future additions to the Kyoto protocol on climate change would avoid committing nations to reducing their carbon dioxide emissions, representatives from individual States planning to implement Kyoto-style carbon controls were also in attendance.

    • Buoyed in part by deepening regulatory and consumer concern about CO2 emissions, diesel engines are continuing to increase their share of new vehicles sold in Europe. In October, diesels represented 51.9% of all new cars registered in Europe. The diesel share in a few countries exceeded 70%. (GCC)

    Diesels, being more fuel efficient as a class than gasoline-fueled engines, emit less CO2 than their gasoline counterparts. One of the downsides of diesel, however, is the emission of Particulate Matter.

    No level of human exposure to PM is without harm. The World Health Organization calculates than some 100,000 Europeans die prematurely every year due to PM, and that the lifespan of all Europeans is shortened by an average 9 months. The rapidly increasing popularity of diesels in Europe will exacerbate the problem. Current Euro standards on PM are more lenient than US regulations, so even assuming more stringent regulation with Euro 5 standards in several years, the diesels that are pouring into the European fleet now will be emitting at levels that will continue to contribute to a worsening health problem. A growing number of biodiesel initiatives will have to be a significant part of the solution.

    • Reducing CO2 from transportation requires either increasing fuel efficiency, or shifting to a lower-carbon fuel.

    There are many ways to increase fuel efficiency. Aerodynamic design and low rolling resistance tires contribute (GCC), as do smaller, more efficient engines. Most of the public is now probably aware of hybrid systems, where an electric motor picks up some of the work otherwise performed by a combustion engine.

    On that front, GM and DaimlerChrysler announced this week that they will partner together on creating a two-mode, full hybrid system that could support a range of applications, from compact cars to large SUVs, including front-wheel and read-wheel drives, and using a variety of powertrains including diesels, gasolines, and possibly alternative fuel systems. (GCC)

    The resulting system will likely be based on the GM Allison hybrid drivetrain used in diesel hybrid transit buses and that GM was planing to implement in its Yukon and Tahoe SUVs in 2007. Despite some reports to the contrary, this is not an engine that the two are developing. Think of it more as an electronic variable transmission that the automakers will be able to drop into a variety of vehicles (using a number of different engines).

    The effectiveness of a given hybrid design in reducing fuel consumption depends not only upon the design use cases, but also on actual driving habits and conditions. Some buyers have expressed discontent with the fuel economy of the Prius in high-speed driving. King County Metro, the transit agency supporting Seattle and environs and the largest buyer to date of diesel-hybrid transit buses is reporting that while the hybrids are exceeding expectations in terms of lowering emissions, they are failing to produce the reductions in fuel economy expected. (GCC).

    On the alternative fuel front, ZAP, an electric vehicle distributor, announced that it plans to produce a hydrogen fuel-cell car for consumers by the end of next year, by working with Anuvu,a fuel cell manufacturer. (GCC).

    And SunLine Transit put the nations’s first hydrogen internal combustion engine series hybrid into service in Palm Springs, CA. (GCC) The hybrid, built by ISE, uses a hydrogen gas-fueled internal combustion engine to drive a generator that produces electricity to power dual traction motors. No CO2, no PM. (At least not from driving the vehicle.)

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