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This Week in Sustainable Transportation, 4/3
Mike Millikin, 3 Apr 05

Every Sunday, Green Car Congress' Mike Millikin gives us an update on the week's sustainable mobility news, looking at the ongoing evolution of personal transportation.

Hybrids

Hybrid sales in the US hit their highest point yet, with 16,619 units sold in March. Sales of the Toyota Prius alone exceeded 10,000 units in the month.

Not surprising as oil continues its volatile rise. Goldman Sachs analysts suggested that the price of crude oil could go as high as $105 per barrel—and that's without factoring in the possibility of peak production.

As a counterpoint to the hybrid sales numbers, research done by Polk Automotive for the Diesel Technology Forum indicated that the number of light and medium-duty diesel passenger vehicles registered in the US grew 56% from 2000 through 2004, from 301,741 to 468,990. The vast majority of those 2004 registrations (92.5%) were medium-duty trucks. Lighter-duty vehicles accounted for only 7.2% (33,541). (GCC)

So, in other words, the number of hybrids sold in March is equivalent to approximately half of the lighter-duty diesel vehicles sold in the US during all of 2004.

Into this scene this week came Toyota’s official introduction of the Highlander Hybrid. The 7-passenger hybrid SUV uses a variant of the Hybrid Synergy Drive powertrain to deliver approximately 30 mpg combined. (GCC)

In preparation for an upcoming electric vehicle event in Monaco, Valence Technology, a developer of large-format Lithium-ion rechargeable batteries, and EnergyCS, a developer of integration control systems, introduced a plug-in hybrid (PHEV) concept car based on a 2004 Toyota Prius. To be shown at the 21st Worldwide International Battery, Hybrid and Fuel Cell Electric Vehicle Symposium & Exhibition (EVS 21) in Monaco next week, the PHEV uses Valence’s phosphate-based Lithium-ion battery system. The Valence/EnergyCS prototype delivers up to an estimtaed 180 mpg for an average commute of 50–60 miles per day. (GCC)

Electric

ArvinMeritor, an $8B Tier One supplier to the auto and truck industries, is developing an all-electric drivetrain for commercial vehicles with Unicell, a medium-duty body builder. The resulting new Class 4 medium-duty vehicle (GVWR of 16,000 lbs), which is being designed for a fleet customer, will use a fully-electric drivetrain and will be demonstrated to the public in 2006.

ArvinMeritor's VP of Advanced Engineering projected that electric vehicles will become dominant in many commercial vocational applications over the next five to 15 years, primarily due to the need for reducing emissions in urban environments. The rate of adoption will depend largely on the cost of battery energy storage relative to the cost of fossil fuel. (GCC)

Hydrogen

The Hydrogen Conference in Washington, DC, this past week, generated a number of announcements.

Ballard Power Systems, a world leader in developing, manufacturing and marketing PEM (Proton Exchange Membrane) fuel cells, released its “Technology Roadmap” leading to a commercially viable fuel cell by 2010. (GCC)

DaimlerChrysler and GM both announced more than $100 million in funding deals with the DOE to further development and testing of hydrogen fuel cell vehicles. (GCC)

Separately, GM announced that it had delivered the first fuel cell-powered truck into U.S. military service.

The modified Chevrolet Silverado is equipped with two 94 kW fuel cell stacks, capable of generating 188 kW and 317 foot-pounds of torque, or roughly the motor torque generated by GM’s 5.3 liter V-8 engine. Three 10,000 psi compressed hydrogen storage tanks, provided by Quantum Technologies, will provide a range of 125 miles, even though the vehicle was not optimized for range. (GCC)

GM had previously delivered a prototype Silverado diesel-electric hybrid with a fuel cell APU to the Army for testing and evaluation.

Ford Motor announced that it had delivered five Ford Focus Fuel Cell Vehicles (FCVs)to the Vancouver Fuel Cell Vehicle Program (VFCVP) for real-use testing in selected fleets. (GCC)

Entirely apart from the conference, reserachers at Northwestern University are developing a new small solid oxide fuel cell (SOFC) that converts iso-octane, a highly-pure hydrocarbon compound that is a component of gasoline, to hydrogen, The hydrogen is then used by the fuel cell to produce electrical energy with an overall fuel efficiency of up to 50%.

Their paper, published online by the journal Science, describes the combination of a special thin-film catalyst layer, through which the iso-octane flows, with a conventional anode. That porous layer, which contains stabilized zirconia and small amounts of the metals ruthenium and cerium, chemically and cleanly converts the fuel to hydrogen. (GCC)

News of a different approach came from Rutgers, as reserachers there are exploring the use of an iridium-based nanostructured catalyst to extract hydrogen from liquid ammonia for use in a fuel cell. (GCC)

Biofuels

Scientists at the USDA’s Agricultural Research Service (ARS) are exploring a simplified process for soybean biodiesel production that eliminates the use of an air-polluting chemical and that may eventually reduce the overall cost of production.

In conventional soybean oil production, the beans are prepped, cut into flakes, and immersed in a solvent, usually hexane. Hexane is a colorless, flammable liquid derived from petroleum, and is an air pollutant the release of which is regulated by the EPA.

The resulting oil then undergoes transesterification using alcohol (methanol or ethanol) and a catalyst (usually sodium hydroxide). Transesterification is the process of cracking of the vegetable oil molecules into fatty acid chains (which ultimately are used for fuel) and glycerin.

The ARS process eliminates hexane from the process simply by skipping the conventional oil-extraction step. Instead, the researchers directly immersed the soybean flakes in the methanol and sodium hydroxide. Transesterification occurs directly in the raw soy flakes (“in situ”) containing the oil. (GCC)

Two UK biofuel makers are partnering in a joint venture that will increase UK manufacturing capacity for biodiesel by some 120 million liters per year (equivalent to more than 2,000 barrels per day).

Global Commodities UK will work with Rix Biodiesel to adapt an existing Rix vegetable oil processing plant at Hull in northeast England to produce more than 120 million litres a year. The converted plant should be operational in about three months. (GCC)

North Dakota Biodiesel plans to build what will be the largest biodiesel refinery in North America. The $50-million plant in Minot, ND, will produce 100,000 tons of biodiesel from canola per year: approximately 2,055 barrels per day. (GCC)

Other

Fiat, PSA Peugeot Citroën and Tofas, a Turkish automaker and Fiat partner, will jointly develop and produce a new small, fuel-efficient light commercial vehicle for the European market. The signing of the agreement follows on the initial exploration of the concept, begun last fall. The vehicle is scheduled for introduction in 2008. (GCC)

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Comments

Algae biodiesel: The solution to the US's petroleum needs. More focus should be given to this.


Posted by: Sam on 3 Apr 05

Would be real nice to have a review of green vehicles suitable for use in cities in developing countries - modest size, not expensive, reliable.


Posted by: Andrew Mancey on 5 Apr 05



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