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The Week in Sustainable Vehicles (02/06/05)
Mike Millikin, 6 Feb 05

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:

Ford continued its string of diesel activity by announcing that it is working with the EPA to refine and test the potential for commercial application of a new diesel combustion technology that meets stringent EPA tailpipe emission standards. This is the second phase of a research agreement between Ford and EPA to examine a new emissions control technology called Clean Diesel Combustion (CDC), which was developed and patented by EPA. (GCC)

The EPA designed its Clean Diesel Combustion engine to prevent NOx formation in the first place. Since NOx is formed at high temperatures as a byproduct of hydrocarbon combustion, EPA sought to keep the local temperature below critical NO formation threshold, around 2,100∞K (1,827∞C or 3,320∞F).

The EPA team discovered that it could achieve this by reducing oxygen concentration to manage the oxidation (combustion) of the fuel in the diffusion flame region of the cylinder.

By managing the combustion to minimize NOx, however, PM, hydrocarbon and CO reduction become more of an issue. (No free lunch.) On the PM front, after almost two years of work the engineering team managed to cut this type of emission by approximately 70%. At this point, the CDC technology will still require the use of some PM aftertreatment, and the use of oxidation catalysts to handle the CO and HC.

The EPA presented test results of the CDC last year showing an order of magnitude reduction in NOx. Now Ford will work with the agency on commercializing the concept.

The EPA earlier last year announced a similar partnership with International on the commercialization of the CDC for heavy-duty engines.

[Editor's Note: told you.]

Royal Dutch Shell announced another 10% reduction in its oil reserves this week and admitted that its reserve replacement ration was far below what it had targeted. (GCC) It was last January that Shell startled the financial world by announcing a 20% reduction in reserves, in what was the first of a series of such reductions last year.

Data about reserves and production numbers is notoriously fuzzy, especially from some of the major national producers (e.g., Saudi Arabia). Matthew Simmons, whose investment banking firm serves the oil industry, has been calling for more data and accountability for several years.

Now he has been joined by UK Chancellor of the Exchequer Gordon Brown who is urging his fellow G7 finance ministers to draw up worldwide standards for accounting for oil and gas reserves. He also wants producing nations to publish exact figures on supply.

The short-term concern is having better data to dampen the price volatility of oil—the longer-term worry is avoiding being blind-sided by peak oil production, which is a particular concern of Simmons.

From a conference in the UK came additional papers and evidence pointing to a previously unexplored effect of excess atmospheric CO2—the growing acidity of the oceans. This problem is not related to climate change, but stems from the common interaction between CO2 and water that creates carbonic acid (H2CO3). More CO2 in the air is leading to more carbonic acid in the water. Oceans have previously recorded a pH reading of 8.2—but this has now dropped to 8.1 (more acidic) and is continuing to fall, with potentially devastating effects to marine ecosystems.

These latest datapoints on the ongoing uncertainty and instability over fossil fuel supplies as well as the environmental effects of their consumption should add more urgency to the transition to sustainable transportation.

Turning to biofuels, adoption and plans for more production continue to grow:

  • From North Carolina comes information that the use of B20 biodiesel in the Raleigh-Durham-Chapel Hill area has jumped from 31,500 gallons in 2001 to at least 1.7 million gallons in 2004. (GCC)

  • John Deere is making B2 its primary fill fuel for new machines coming out of its US plants. (GCC)

  • The Boeing plant in Wichita, KS, is adopting B20. (GCC)

  • Minnesota is evaluating the use of biodiesel for its proposed Northstar Corridor commuter rail. (GCC)

  • Also in Minnesota, legislators are pushing for a E20 mandate—i.e., all gasoline vehicles to use a 20% ethanol blend (GCC)

  • France is working to triple its output of biofuels. (GCC)

  • Brazil and Japan are entering into a bilateral development pact to increase production of Brazilian biofuels and ensure their supply to Japan. (GCC)

Sales figures released this week by the different automakers showed almost a doubling of hybrid sales in January from the year before. (GCC) Overall, while industry sales of all vehicles dropped some 30% from December (a hot sales month) to january, hybrid sales declined 19%, dropping back down below 10,000.

J.D. Power-LMC released a forecast this week projecting that hybrids will top out in the US at 3% marketshare (535,000 units) in 2010. (GCC) The analysts based their forecast on the assumption that hybrids would continue to demand a $3,000–4,000 price premium, and that ongoing fuel efficiency developments in gasoline and diesel engines would make those platforms ultimately more attractive.

The company apparently did not factor in the potential for volume-driven price reduction, nor consider diesel-hybrids as a combination. (Which would be a surprise to Ford, GM and Mercedes, all of which showed off nifty diesel-hybrid concepts at the Detroit auto show.)

The J.D. Power-LMC line of reasoning resonates with Nissan CEO Carlos Ghosn, however, who remarked that hybrids did not make business sense. (GCC)

Although Nissan will begin building a hybrid version of its Altima for the 2006 model year, Ghosn is more focused on smaller cars to meet demand for fuel-efficiency. Accordingly, Nissan also announced that it will begin producing a new compact for the US, based on its new efficient 1.5-liter engine. (GCC) The new engine promises a 28% improvement in fuel efficiency while also delivering an increase in torque.

Toyota’s Lexus division formally launched the hybrid Rx 400h SUV. (GCC) The Rx 400h adds a third electric motor to provide a hybrid All Wheel Drive capability.

The RX 400h delivers estimated combined fuel economy at 28 mpg, a 33% improvement over the RX 330. (By comparison, the Ford Escape Hybrid 4WD achieves 31 mpg combined.) Its city fuel economy of 30 mpg is 67% better than that of the RX 330, reflecting the benefit provided by the hybrid drive in stop-and-go city driving.

Finally, the Japanese press reported a burgeoning partnership in hybrid technology between Toyota and Fuji Heavy Industries, the makers of Subaru. (GCC) Toyota would provide its hybrid drive system to Fuji Heavy for Subarus, while Fuji Heavy would provide advanced Li-Ion batteries to Toyota. Neither company was quoted in the report. In an interesting twist—or complication—GM owns 21% of Fuji Heavy.

Toyota also announced that it will unveil a production version of the powertrain in its diesel Clean Power 180 concept car, shown last year at the Paris event. (GCC)

The new 2.2-liter Clean Power engine will be placed in an Avensis, and offers 130 kW (175 hp) of power and 400 Nm (295 lb-ft) of torque, while producing levels of NOx and PM emissions that are respectively around 50% and 80% below Euro-4 standards.

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Excuse me but how can a site that does not mention bicycles be called "by far the best resource around for news and analysis covering the ongoing evolution of personal transportation."?

Motorvehicles are responsible for half a million violent deaths a year world wide: a 'green' car is still an evil killing machine.

Posted by: Andrea Casalotti on 6 Feb 05

Bicycles should be a part of a transformation of urban and transport infrastructure, to be sure; walkable cities (a goal of sustainable city design) are de facto bikeable cities. Unfortunately, bicycles are not appropriate for every transportation scenario or for every person, for good reasons, ranging from weather conditions to transit time to load capacity to health issues (my own arthritis in my knees, for example, makes biking essentially impossible). GCC covers the evolution of motorized vehicles, which is -- and, realistically, will be for a long time -- a primary mode of transportation.

Posted by: Jamais Cascio on 6 Feb 05

Good answer Jamais...

Posted by: Vince on 7 Feb 05

Jamis -- Sorry to hear about your arthritis in your knees. They make some excellent hand/pedal bikes these days that you might want to give a try. It just like being ten years old all over again. Check out the link (one of many out there) and good luck with the knees. Seelink below

Posted by: JJ on 10 Feb 05

The reason I dont bike is I have the coordination of your average brick and the aeriodynamics of one too;/

Posted by: wintermane on 12 Feb 05



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